Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cocina Económica "Mary" Uruapan

Mary's is in the white building
A Cocina Económica is an inexpensive place to eat, usually with a three to four course comida. There are often some choices offered in the courses. Author David Lida recently wrote a good description of the comida corrida offered by cocinas económicas.

We first learned of the Cocina Económica "Mary" from a Lonely Planet Guidebook. Since then, we've eaten there three times and nowhere else in Uruapan.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Anniversary Waltz

On June 21st, 2011, Doña Cuevas and I celebrated our 43 years together as man and wife.

We also marked our 5 years here in this house, on the Rancho, or as our amigo, Felipe calls it, "The Sticks".

You are invited to read more about our house, here, on my other blog, Surviving La Vida Buena.

 Don Cuevas

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rehash: Four Morelia Restaurants Revisited

We were in Morelia over a weekend recently, and revisited three restaurants which we'd reviewed earlier. The results were mixed.

Friday afternoon, we went to El Pescador, on Avenida Cuautla, just south of Av. Madero Poniente. This will undoubtedly be our last visit. Its not that the food is bad, it's that it fails to meet expectations through lack of attention to detail.

A michelada con clamato was passable, but came with a branch of celery  that had seen better days.

I had a Coctel "Viagra". of mixed seafood. It had some really unattractive shrimp "cooked" in lime juice and other chunks of seafood, all in a "chabela goblet" with an acidic tomatoey broth. The bits of green olives added nothing to the overall good.

Doña Cuevas ordered Camarones al Mojo de Ajo. It was overcooked and the garlic was burnt. It was accompanied by the usual insipid, sweet mayonnaisey, shredded carrot salad and some unimaginative salad garnishes.

Moderate, but not worth the price at that.

We did much better late that night, returning from the Morelia Airport with our in-laws to Hamburguesas Richard's, Av. Morelos Sur # 396. Weekend nights are the best time to eat at Richard's, if you want to enjoy the special Hamburguesa al Pastor, a freshly cooked, all beef patty topped with crisp shavings of pastor meat. Our vegetarian in-laws loved the fresh cut papas fritas. We think that they are the best in Morelia.

But this is the classic combo: a hamburguesa con queso, an order of French fries, some searingly picante chiles toreados and grilled onions on the side, and a soothing glass of horchata.

A bargain!

On Saturday morning, we walked from our lodgings at Casona Rosa to the Mercado Niño Santo, Calle Nicolás Bravo at Calle Granaditas, to breakfast at at Cocina Económica Doña Feli's, aka Local # 127.

We enjoyed the friendly atmosphere and ate some Chiles Rellenos de Queso, frijoles y arroz.

What distinguishes the chiles rellenos at Local # 127 is that they are dipped in the egg batter and fried only when ordered. It is attention to detail that is not usually found in most restaurants.

We also enjoyed a tall glass of melon juice, brought up from the juice stand on the main floor below.

A bargain!

On Saturday afternoon, we took a cab from Casona Rosa to Spaghetteria Gian Carlo, on Av. Aquiles Serdan at the corner of Calle Revolucíon. It's across from the Hotel Pórtico.

There we split an Ensalada Árlequin with a excessivly thick but delicious cilantro dressing. Doña Cuevas then had Spaghetti Palermo with tomatoes garlic and chunks of swordfish. I had a simpler plate of Spaghetti with fresh shrimp, tomatoes and parsley. My in-laws, Ellen and Dave, both ordered penne pasta dishes, one with butter and fresh sage; the other with cream and gorgonzola cheese. The gorgonzola dish was deemed to be the better one, as the sage was very understated in the first.

Spaghetteria Gian Carlo rates as one of the best Italian restaurants that we've vsited in Michoacán. Perhaps it's because they focus on pasta, salad and panini, without venturing into meats, poultry and seafood dishes. That also keeps the prices low.

The "wine list" is extremely limited. You can get a glass of house red or white. I didn't care for the white. It was more yellow and tasted sweeter than I like, with a "cooked" taste.

A bargain!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Extolling Atole de Grano

You can talk all you want of tacos, brag on birria, squawk about enchiladas de pollo, or marvel at menudo. But for me, the finest street food Pátzcuaro has to offer is atole de grano. It's pure, clean, nourishing, comforting and delicious, as well as cheap.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ray's Focuses On Pizza

A wedge of Ray's Pizza
We went out for pizza recently while visiting family in New Jersey. There's no shortage of pizzerias in the area, many of them notable. My mom and sister chose Ray's Famous NY Pizza, in Verona, NJ.

The surprisingly small building  is located on a busy suburban corner, and is shared with two or more other businesses. Ray's has counter type seating facing out the big windows, and a few concrete picnic type tables outside. One would imagine that most of its business is takeout, but it seems to do a good trade in slices. When we were there, they were running a special of two slices and a soft drink for either $5 or $6, depending on the chosen toppings.

We ordered a large pizza with sweet peppers and onions; a family favorite. The pizzas are made up at a baker's table in a narrow nook to one side of the ovens, The small space doesn't seem to inhibit the skills of the pizzaiuolo. The wait was about 20 minutes, but worth it. While we waited, I scoped out the pies that they had ready to offer by the slice. The variety was large and most all very attractive.

When our pie came, it was a beauty, heaped with thickly cut sweet onions and red peppers, simple crushed tomatoes, and just the right amount of cheese. Less is best. The crust was a bit unusual, with an even, regular texture. But it was o.k. We had no problem consuming the entire pizza on the spot. It was filling, but without the heavy greasy feeling one might get from over the top toppings.

Rays ratings:

Food: ***1/2
Service: friendly, but limited. Order at the counter, carry food yourself to car or table.
Price: unavailable, but probably average for the area.
Ambience: very casual and functional
Hygiene: looks very good

Back home once more, the memory of that pizza remained with me, so I indulged an impulse and on Monday made pizza. I decided to keep it simple for a change. For the dough, I used only 1 teaspoon of instant yeast in over 4 cups of flour, plus a 1/4 cup of gluten. The fermentation took place over some 4 hours. That gives a better flavor.

For sauce, I followed the simple instructions of various Italian cookbooks. A can of Italian plum tomatoes in puree and juice, coarsely chopped and drained over a strainer. The saved juice and puree made the foundation of a great Bloody Mary later on.

The seasonings were salt, freshly ground black pepper, a little orégano, a bit of (o.k. A lot) of crushed garlic, and a tiny squirt of olive oil.

The toppings for the two medium pizzas would be alla Margherita, with tomato, mozzarella* and fresh basil; and the second alla Puttanesca; with anchovies, two kinds of olives and a dusting of hot red chile flakes.

*I used a funky chunk of mozzarella that needed to be trimmed of mold before being sliced and placed on the pizza. Nothing to be scared of. It tasted fine when baked and there were no ill effects.

I stretched and rolled the dough balls gradually and placed the circles on my dark, solid (not perforated) medium sized pizza pans. They baked well and in a shorter time than than I'd experienced with the perforated pans. The finished crusts were more characterful than Ray's.

The pizzas not only looked good, but tasted wonderful. Different from Ray's, both good in their own way.


Pizza dough (adapted from The Vegetarian Epicure, Book Two, by Anna Thomas)

1 tsp dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water
2 tsp sugar
3 or more cups of flour
1/4 cup gluten flour (optional)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil

Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup of the water with the sugar. Let sit 5 minutes.

Put the dissolved yeast and the rest of the water in the mixing bowl, along with the salt and 3 cups of flour and the gluten, if used. Add the tbsp of olive oil.

Begin mixing with the flat paddle beater. Beat on low to medium speed two minutes, approximately.

Switch to the dough hook, and mix on low speed about 8 minutes, adding enough flour to make an elastic dough. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl from time to time.

When the dough forms a ball, wrapped around the dough hook, and cleans the inside of the bowl, it's ready. Oil lightly the ball of dough and put back into the bowl, covered with a clean kitchen towel or similar. Let rise until more than doubled, about 2 to 3 hours.

During this time, you should prepare your sauce, cheese and other toppings.

Lightly punch down the dough and form into two balls. Cover with the towel and allow to rest 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 450º F or as high as it will go. The oven racks should be well spaced to allow for optimal heat circulation.

Gently pat, stretch and roll a ball of dough into a circle of even thickness and enough diameter to reach up the shallow sides of your pan.

Set that aside and repeat with the second ball.

Cover each pan of dough with chopped and well drained canned Italian tomatoes, seasoned as above, or the sauce of your preference. In either case, they must be thick and not runny.

Place toppings sparingly, and when done, place pizza into oven. With our oven, they take about 20 minutes to bake.

Rotate the pizzas top to bottom and reverse on the shelves to ensure even cooking. When the toppings are cooked, the cheese melted nicely, and the bottom of the crust is browned, they are done. 

Remove each pizza from the baking pan to a cutting surface, and with a large, sharp knife or pizza cutting whel, divide into desired serving sizes.

Try to wait a few minutes before eating, as mouth burns may otherwise result. 

More Pizzas In History

Pizza Margherita

Pizza Puttanesca

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Popeye's Caper

We'd considered going to the Morelia en Boca 2011 affair, but family matters took us to the U.S. 

We were compensated with a flying visit to a favorite fast food spot at Houston International Airport. When we lived in Little Rock, AR, I’d visited Popeye’s Fried Chicken on a few occasions for chicken and buttermilk biscuits.

But at that time I was not a big fan of the local Popeye's. Once, while heading home from work, I wanted to buy some biscuits only, but the counter person couldn't figure out how to do that.

On a previous trip from Morelia to Houston Airport, we arrived early and nearly the first food place we saw was Popeye’s. An order of freshly cooked Chicken Tenders, a hot biscuit and a side of mashed potatoes with Cajun Gravy looked to be just the thing; and it did hit the spot.

On our recent trip, we were rushed heading north but had plenty of time coming back. We definitely wanted some Popeye’s chicken.

Problem was, we weren’t sure where Popeye’s was located. We left Terminal C and took the Terminal Link train to Terminal B. There’s a food court at the hub, including Chile’s, Harlon's BBQ (just fair) Panchito's, a Tex-Mex place, McDonald’s, Shipley’s Donuts (a Little Rock favorite as well), and best of all, a Peet’s Coffee; but no Popeye’s.

It was then that Sra. Cuevas mentioned that we’d passed a Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen back in Terminal C, but she'd thought it was some knock off of the real thing. We contemplated the nearby dining options, few of which appealed. But as we had over 3 hours until our connecting flight, we decided to retrace our steps through the maze to Popeye’s.

Our cave exploring experiences served us well. We sniffed out the trail to the Terminal Link Train, and before long, after passing the notable Echo Dome Junction, we found Popeye’s with little difficulty. It’s behind a Z’Pizza and some juice joint.

This time, we got the Spicy Tenders, as modest 3 piece traveler’s combos, powerfully seasoned with cayenne, and the Mashed Potatoes with Spicy Cajun Gravy (lots of black pepper). They included a side (mashed, what else?) and a medium soft drink. (Dr. Pepper, a weird soft drink originating in the American South, but appropriate accompaniment to certain foods.)

While the meal was satisfactory, it didn’t quite rise to the level of that first meal. In fact, the spicing level contributed to a later digestive malaise. But I don’t blame Popeye’s. I could have ordered differently.

But we’d return. We’d just get the Regular Tenders, or maybe, try the regular chicken on the bone.

(If your companion doesn’t like Popeye’s, there’s a Subway immediately adjacent.)

(Suggested dessert, if you are still hungry: a Shipley’s Donut and a cup of Peet’s Brewed Coffee. Peet’s is great! Good tables in the Food Court near Shipley’s, and there’s wi-fi, but it’s paid. If you subscribe to Boingo, you’ll connect.)

For more info on Houston International Airport, visit


Food: ***1/2
Service: ***
Ambiance: Noisy and crowded at peak times
Price: (in dollars): $+ Our 3 piece combos ran about $8 each, with tax.
Cleanliness: Acceptable.