Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Men's Breakfast at Las Cuevas 2008

This past Tuesday morning, Susan and I, with the help of our neighbors, Geni and Larry, and a friend, Bruce, had 22 retired men as breakfast guests to our house at Rancho Las Cuevas. Again, the theme was "Southern U.S. Breakfast", and as such, calories and cholesterol levels were ignored.

The Menu
  • Home made Cinnamon Rolls
  • Angel Biscuits, sausage gravy
  • Thick Sliced, Hickory Smoked Bacon
  • Hominy Grits
  • Scrambled Eggs
  • Shredded Cheddar Cheese
  • Oven roasted Potatoes
  • Salsas, both red and green
  • Strawberry Jam, Honey
  • Small, freshly squeezed Orange juice
  • Coffee
(A big urn type coffeemaker was lent to us by Rick Davis, co-owner of Restaurant Cha Cha Cha in Pátzcuaro. Many thanks, Rick!)

The day was bright and sunny when the guests started arriving at about 9:10, and we were serving by 9:50. However, preparations started the day before and I set to work in the early morning at 2 a.m to begin baking and cooking. The most time consuming part was the making of the cinnamon rolls, but I enjoyed it because it took me back, on a flood of nostalgia, to the more fun aspects of owning a bakery in the 80s and mid-90s.

The rest was basically Army Cooks' training coming to the fore with organizational skills and exquisite timing. There were a minimum of glitches.
When it was over, the guests were happy and well-fed, and we and our crew were rewarded with satisfaction and a pitcher of

"Mexican Bloody Marys."

Here's the recipe:
  • 5 or 6 chilled 12 oz V-8 juices
  • juice of 6-7 Mexican limes
  • 5-7 dashes of Salsa Huichol or favorite bottled salsa
  • Lea & Perrins, 2-3 dashes
  • Maggi Jugo, 2-3 dashes
  • 1 cup, approximately, ice-cold Tequila (nothing fancy)
  • ice
  • Serve in glasses rimmed with sea-salt and coarsely ground red chile .

Thanks to Geni Certain for the photos. Many thanks to Larry Wood for squeezing many kilos of oranges for orange juice, serving coffee, and moving furniture. Thanks to volunteer Bruce for his help serving. Muchas gracias a nuestros vecinos, Chucha y Mateo por nos dando prestacíon de unas sillas y una mesa. Special thanks to SFC (U.S. Army, Ret.) Ric H., for his organizational skills.

Click slide show to visit gallery.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Cooking School In Patzcuaro

The Cooking Class at El Mesón de San Antonio

The proliferation of cooking schools in Mexico, ranging from short, one day classes to elaborate one week sojourns has been phenomenal in recent years. Oaxaca city seems to lead in offering cooking lessons, followed by Tlaxcala, Guadalajara, and Mexico City. This is an area of educational and entertaing tourism until recently neglected in Pátzcuaro.

I recently received an email from four Americans planning to visit Pátzcuaro, inquiring about Mexican cooking classes in the area. I knew of only one, on a distant Zirahúen ranch, and that was probably closed. I replied that I thought I could organize something for them, at the spacious and comfortable Hotel Mesón de San Antonio

With the cooperation of our friends, Mesón owners and hosts Sr. Alfredo del Río Mora, and his wife Sra. Guadalupe del Río, we put together a one day class of 5 to 6 hours. Guadalupe ("Lupe") is an excellent and dexterous cook, and would teach the class. I was the organizer and translator as necessary.

I corresponded at length by email with the guests to customize the class to their needs. The event was our "pilot program" and thus we were able to offer them a choice of menus with some variations. The theme was "Comida Michoacana", and the final menu was this:

• Ensalada de Nopalitos con queso fresco
• Churipo con Corundas
• Tortillas de Maíz Criollo hechas a mano
• Salsa de Chile de Árbol con Xoconostle;
• Postre: Copita de Gaspacho Moreliano
• Agua Fresca de Jamaica
• Pulque

We enlisted the help of Sra. Amparo Cervantes and her daughter, Mireya,
from the Restaurante Comida Regional in Tzurumútaro; specialists in the traditional making of corundas and handmade tortillas. They brought their vaporera, or steamer; and a metate y mano to demonstrate and teach the techniques to the guests.

Our day began when I led the guests, three of us toting shopping bags, on a shopping tour of Pátzcuaro's Mercado, to buy most of the ingredients for the meal. This was our shopping list:

• Carne de Res (Lupe purchased the beef earlier in order to get it cooking.)
• Cebollas
• Col
• Zanahorias
• Chayotes
• Calabacitas
• Xoconostles
• Cilantro
• Epazote
• Piña
• Jícama
• Mango
• Queso cotija
• Chile molido
• Limones
• Nopalitos
• Chile verde

Of course, we looked at many other things in the Mercado unrelated to our menu of the day. One could visit the Mercado every week and still find new and fascinating ingredients as well as prepared foods. The Pátzcuaro Mercado in photos.

When we arrived back at the hotel, Sras. Amparo and Mireya were there, setting up. You can see their demonstration of tortilla making in the video embedded below.

The guests were able to participate to whatever degree they wished; slicing, dicing, cutting, and most of all, trying their hands at tortilla making and, more challenging, filling and wrapping the 5-pointed corundas. I devoted my time to taking photos and videos, but was soon enlisted by Lupe to help in the preparations.

At a few minutes to 2:00 p.m., we sat down in the large "Refectorio" hall (once the set of a a telenovela filming) of the Mesón de San Antonio to our comida.

The churipo was rich with meat and vegetables; much better than any I'd ever had in restaurants; the Ensalada de Nopalitos, tart; slightly picante with chiles verdes serranos, and refreshing. The corundas were abundant, steaming hot, light and spongy, perfect for soaking up the broth of the churipo. The tamales, thick and earthy, were somewhat of an excess, but nevertheless welcome.

The agua fresca de jamaica was tart-sweet and refreshing.

Postre (dessert), was a light melange of diced fresh pineapple, jícama, and mango
bathed in freshly squeezed orange juice, sprinkled with Queso Cotija and a dusting of chile molido al gusto.

Excerpted Comments from Participants...

"We'd like to once again thank you for putting together a phenomenal cooking experience.. We found Lupe to be a gracious host, a beautiful kitchen to work around in and we appreciate all the work and efforts you all went to..."

"Market Shopping = A+ An exceptional experience especially for someone who's not attended a large city market. Knowing how to select and find the ingredients is of importance to most cooks."

"Menu = A+ With all the foods in Mexico to prepare it's hard to decide what would be the "perfect" menu for a cooking class. What you suggested and planned for fit us all perfectly. No complaints. This was a true and authentic menu..."

"An exceptional value for the experience..."
Leisa Bailey

"It was great fun and a nice and intimate setting to visit with very nice and interesting people. The Purhepecha menus for classes will be very appealing to people visiting, both foreigners and Mexican, I would think."

Carole Kocian

For further information, contact Mesón de San Antonio

Saturday, March 15, 2008

La Jaiba: Eat Here and Get Crabs

We'd heard how good this seafood restaurant is, but until Thursday, hadn't eaten there. There's another location, somewhere out near the Panteón Municipal, but it has been elusive. The one we found is at Blvd García de León # 937, north side, close to a TelMex office and parking lot. Parking is where you find it, on the street. There's a wheelchair ramp of sorts at the door. Tel: (443) 315 57 57. The rooms are fairly simple but well lit and spacious, as befits a marisquería. The menu fits on two sides of a folding carta.

We were immediately brought an attractively arranged platter of chopped onion, cilantro leaves and chopped chile perón; a small loaf of crusty bread, a dish of the popular, orangey colored spiced mayonnaise, and a small mound of what I call "ensaladilla Rusa; cubed cooked potatoes, peas and carrots in mayo. This has never attracted me, but it was actually quite good. There were two collections of popular bottled salsas; that the labels were gone added a frisson of daring to the meal.

Our drinks orders were taken promptly. There's a pretty good selection of cervezas and mixed drinks. I treated myself to a vodka and mineral water. The Absolut Vodka, poured generously at table, was what I need after having just spent an hour plus in a dentist's chair.

Our group of four began with a pair of Rollos de Jaiba and Rollos de Mariscos; sort of semi-formed Spring Rolls. They were "ok" but not great, with mushy, undistinguished fillings and not very crisp wrappers. They came with more ensaladilla Rusa. Being hungry, we ate them with no problem.

Choosing a main course was pleasantly challenging. The list of interesting preparations is extensive and inventive, such as Camarones Cocos. Camarones al Tequila, Camarones a la Salsa Mango, etc. They also offer cocteles de mariscos, of course. We saw a couple of men receive Cocteles Campechanas, a
large "Chabela" goblet, beautifully layered with fresh oysters, shrimp and octopus. The cocteles were very tempting, but fortunately, we'd already eaten, and I didn't violate my "Oath of No Raw Oysters in Mexico" that I swore in 1980, when I was ill for two weeks after an oyster cocktail in Tuxpan, Veracruz.

My wife, Susan, had some beautiful and tasty Brochetas de Camarones, presented with grilled orange wedges, sweet yellow peppers, onion and bacon on actual wooden skewers. (So often "brochetas" or "alambres" means a stir-grilled melange of tasty bits that once upon a time, might have been served on a skewer.) A small plate of so-so rice accompanied it, as well as some limp, somewhat greasy French Fries. Our two visitors split an order on Mango Shrimp. It was nicely done, 3 shrimp per diner (you can order as many as you want. The waitresses are very accomodating.) The sauce was a thick, puree of mango with a hint of chile. Not exactly my kind of thing, but the taste of sauce I had was pleasant.

I wanted a filete de pescado, as I wasn't up for tackling a whole fish. (During our meal, we saw a whole, raw fish presented to another diner on an iced platter for his approval. It stuck out over the sides of the platter. We were impressed.)

I hadn't had a proper Pescado a La Veracruzana in a long time, so I ordered that. I anticipated that the filet itself would be bland and very soft textured. I think that tilapia is very popular with restauranteros. It's by no means my favorite fish, as it's usually nearly devoid of any interesting texture nor taste, but on this occasion it suited me.
The sauce was very good; let me tell you:

*What are some signs of a good Salsa a la Veracruzana?*

• Fresh tomatoes; onions, a little garlic, certainly.
• Cooked Chiles Jalapeños, cut lengthwise.
• Green olives, hold the pimento stuffing.
Alcaparras (capers) lend a salty tang. (In another Mexican restaurant, in the U.S., I was once served the dish with peas as a stand-in for the capers.)
• Bay leaves. (Remove before tucking into your fish.)
• Juices are liquid, not thickened with tomato puree.
• A lightly fried chile güero on top is a classic touch.
IMO, the Veracruzana at La Jaiba met and exceeded these standards, except for no chile güero. Big deal. It was delicious anyway. I cleaned up all the sauce with the fresh bread.

Desserts are mini-individual cakes or flan. The cakes are cute, but nothing special really; the flan was a little firm, which is ok, and our Pennsylvania born friend jealously guarded it from me. Coffee was IMO, passable, but our Louisana-raised friend thought it was bad.

Summing up: I'd give La Jaiba 3 1/2 stars, moving toward 4, out of a possible 5. The service is excellent, the room is fine, the chairs comfortable. As to the food, the cocteles de mariscos looked magnificent and well made. (Did not try them.). The shrimp in Mango Sauce were plump, fresh and tasty. The Brochetas also. The Veracruzana, an A-.

The Fry Cook needs retraining, with special attention to oil temperatures.
In general, worthy of a special visit, and we would certainly eat there again.

Really, I didn't spot any crabs on my once-over-lightly scan of the menu. I could have titled this blog post; "Shrimps Served Here", but that wouldn't have gotten your attention as quickly.

We went to Morelia last Tuesday. The mid-day and afternoon heat was powerful.

A small group protesting on Blvd. García de León jammed traffic, but we were able to extricate ourselves and park about 4 or 5 blocks from Mariscos La Jaiba. Once inside, we found the overhead fan very welcome. We ate lightly, a shrimp cocktail for Doña Cuevas, and one of pulpos and camarones for me. They were delicious; among the better ones we've had. It wasn't that the shrimp were so much better; it was that the clear broth in the glass was tastier. I also like the platter of chopped cilantro, cebolla y chiles with which to garnish your food al gusto. We were also very thirsty, and we drank a pitcher of limonada and a michelada con Clamato.

At an adjoining table, a large family/friends group came in and ordered mariscadas, platters heaped with cold, boiled seafood, including what looked like a part of a langosta. It was very attractive and tempting. Our waitress explained that the price started at about $100 MXP per person, and went up, depending on the selection, and I suppose, the market price of some of the seafood. A mariscada is on our priority list for our next visit.

La Jaiba is located on Blvd. García de León near the corner of Calle Battalla de Cerro Gordo, but east of the Telmex Building. The next street to the west is Batalla de La Angostura.

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