Sunday, December 30, 2012

Don Cuevas’ Magical Mole Mystery Tour

The long awaited,  semi-dreaded Mole Season opened this year for us on December 12, El Día de La Virgen de Guadalupe. We were invited to the house of our landlords’ daughter, husband and grandson, César, for a comida celebrating the César’s Primera Comuníon. That took place in Coenembo, a pleasant town high in the mountains to the east of Quiroga. It’s only about 12 miles from Casa Las Cuevas, but the paved highway route is more on the order of 30 miles each way.

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Coenembo location

The mole was rich, suave and subtly complex. It was instantly recognizable as the work of Sra. Carmelina, whose mole we’d enjoyed a few years back. For seconds, I skipped the chicken but requested “una laguna de mole, y ‘sopa’". Sopa in this sense refers to the pilaf like rice that accopanies almost every family sit down meal.

Mmmm, Carmelina, I love your mole

Laguna de Mole on my plate
We were also treated to homemade corundas, a sort of plain steamed masa tamal wrapped in fresh corn leaves: the matzoh balls of Michoacán.

Two days later, December 14, we returned to the scene of that earlier mole of Carmelina, this time for a comida at the house of Ramón and Irma, just down the street, next to the church. Once again a mole de pollo, this one made by Sra. Providencia. It was similar in appearance to Carmelina's, but different in taste. Providencia’s mole had more of a smoky, spicy bite. I was able to consume a good amount of it. I don't have a photo of that mole, but I offer you these in compensation:

Sra. Providencia stirs rice for sopa
Another year, another sopa
Sra. Carmelina's mole suavecito 
Last Wednesday, December 26, we went to a comida at the nearby house of Marta and Mario, in celebration of the marriage that day of their son Enrique to Jessica. (Both live in the U.S. and speak fluent English.)

¡Mole! Good, too, although the flavor profiles were starting to blur on my jaded palate. It was good enough that I asked for a side of more mole, and I was brought a generous cupful.

Mole at meal's end
A medium mole to go or spoon up on site
Yesterday, Saturday, December 29, we went to the not too distant village of Los Corrales, Michoacán, where another wedding was taking place in the charmingly adorned church there. Incidently, Los Corrales is a bit over 4 kilometers from Coenembo, as the bird flies, but the paved route is 31.6 kilometers. .
Los Corrales at "A", Coenembo at "B".

Church at Los Corrales, Michoacán

Flower adorned church
Afterward, accompanied by mariachis, hundreds of guests trooped up the hill to a huge party venue under enormous tarp tents. There were no less than three stages, two of which were put to use in the course of the afternoon.

Intense mole served within
The main course was: you guessed it, mole de pollo. I did see some folks eating birria but none came my way. At this point my sensitive mole flavor profile palate had crashed, in part due to mole saturation.

But there was also the overload of stimuli of the other senses, from the beautiful to the extremely loud pounding music from the speakers of the otherwise very good band. And sorry, no mole photo. One mole looks like another, but this one was the most picante so far.

I have retired from the mole circuit for this year, and although we have received an invitation to another wedding on January 5th, we will not be a presence there.

Last night for supper, we had scalloped potatoes with ham au gratin and canned sweet corn, then soft gingerbread for dessert. In the end, there’s no place like home.

And now, for your listening and viewing pleasure, Lila Downs performs "La Cumbia de Mole".

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Upper Deck: La Romería, Santa María, Morelia

La Romería lies high in the hills of Balcones de Santa María, Morelia, and is high on my list for a prompt return visit.

We had read some enthusiastic reports of La Romería, but hadn't thought much about it until recently. We've been relatively frequent visitors to Parrilla y Canilla close by. But recently, we wanted a change of scene and our friend, Jennifer Rose, suggested La Romería. The fact that the comida was Yucateca in style was a great attraction. In Michoacán we don't get much variation on the usual comida Michoacana, and a change is refreshing.

The inevitable question arises, "What is a romería?" My Ultraligua Spanish-English digital dictionary says:

romería s.f.
1. gathering at a shrine n. 2. pilgrimage n. 3. picnic n.

La Romería is owned and operated by the energetic Chef Freddy Martínez. Freddy will greet you, seat you, take your order, and with his assistant chef, prepare your meal. It's a very congenial and comfortable style of service.

Chef Freddy Martínez
The second floor restaurant, incongruously located above a Subway shop, is small and casual, with additional seating on the terrace. The dining room is small but with a warm and easy ambience. A delicious potato and cheese filled, crisp shelled botana and two salsa picosas come to you on the house.

Botana and two salsas

The menu is divided in two principal parts. The first is of antojitos Yucatecos, such as as panuchos, sopes and salbutes. The second part is dedicated to platos fuertes.

For our first visit, I ordered a mixed platter of antojitos, followed by a bowl of soup. My dining companions, Jennifer, Larry and Sra. Cuevas ordered platos fuertes in addition to sampling the antojitos. Larry had Costillas con Frijoles Negros, a very hearty dish attractively garnished with a fresh relish of chopped radish, cilantro and onion.

Costillas con Frijoles Negros
Both Jennifer and Doña Cuevas ordered Pescado Tikin Xic, a filet of tilapia given a beneficial flavor lift with an achiote based sauce. The platter was very nicely accompanied by golden brown fried potato slices, pureed frijoles negros, and rings of fresh sweet peppers.

Pescado Tikin Xic
My antojitos were varied, ranging from good to very good. I especially enjoyed the panuchos of relleno negro de pavo, and the pavo en escabeche. The panuchos de cochinita pibil were good, although I wouldn't be as tempted to make a main course of the cochinita. The salbute de pollo was good, but less distinctive.

Collage of antojitos Yucatecos
For a main course, I chose Sopa de Setas y Flores de Calabaza over the house special Sopa de Lima. The sopa was good, but anticlimactic after the antojitos. It was also a very generous serving, and I couldn't finish it.

Sopa de Setas y Flores de Calabaza
Platings were simple but attractively done. Chef Freddy has an eye for style.

Drinks were interesting and good, with the exception of the disappointing naranjada, made from a "just purchased" carton of orange juice plus mineral water.

I started my comida with a carajillo, an iced coffee sweetly spiked with some unidentified, delicious spirit. I later had a Cerveza Brü, a local product. This Brü's for Yü. (I had to get that out of the way.) I chose the Ginger Beer variety, which was distinctly hoppy and pleasantly warmed by the ginger undertone, and not at all sweet.

I was the only one of us to have dessert. Their are some elaborate cakes, made elsewhere, but I decided instead to have helado vainilla con Xtabentun. That was deliciously rich, with the honey-anise Xtabentun poured over all.

My café espresso was very good.

Location: J.J.Tablada 565, Balcones de Santa María, Morelia, Michoacán, México. Second floor. Parking is somewhat limited, but there is parking across the street at the upscale complex of stores there. Tel: 233 7000

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Food: ****

Service: *****

Price:  $$-$$1/2.
You can eat at moderate cost or you can add on a a lot of extras (tempting and easy to do) and pay more.

Ambience: warmly casual

Rest rooms: Small, unisex, very well maintained. Stylish washroom.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Zihuatanejo, December, 2012, Part 5: The wrap up

"Flowers" made of hojas de maíz, on Calle Cocos. Available during holiday seasons.

PART 5: The wrap up

It's always hard for me to wrap up these extended visit posts without an anticlimactic feeling. So, I'll keep this brief.

In our last days of our stay in Zihuatanejo, we ate at Fonda Doña Licha, on Calle Cocos, a couple of blocks east of the Mercado Municipal. Doña Licha's is a great place for nicely prepared, economical meals in simple but pleasant surroundings. I had an omelet a la Mexicana con queso and mi esposa had a plato de frutas con yogurt y granola. See my review from a visit earlier this year.

I also made sure to walk the block or so tho the street market on Calle Tamarindo, which runs north-south between Calle Cocos and Calle Mangos. I bought a couple of kilos of the tasty tomates criollos for $15 pesos a kilo, since risen to $20 pesos.

Tomates Criollos. Good even when underripe
On our last night at Bungalows Madera, we stayed in our neighborhood for a pleasant dinner at Rufo's Grill, on the corner of Calles Adelita and Nuestra Señora de Los Remedios, if I recall correctly. Rufo's opens at about 6 p.m., and during the day, the same spot is occupied by Patio Mexicana.
Here's a Google Street View.

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Rufo's is like a friend's backyard grill, good food, very simply prepared. The accompanying charcoal grilled vegetables are a favorite. Moderate prices. Yes, there is live music, but it's always been tasteful and restrained and in the background, not table side.

See my earlier review of Rufo's Grill.

Ribeye steak at Rufo's Grill
Filete de atún a la plancha. Four french fries seems to be standard.

On our morning of departure, we returned to Carmelita's Cafe for breakfast and a farewell.

These were the blackboard menu specials of the day:

Click to enlarge
Doña Cuevas had an Ensalada Carmelita's, a variant on a Chef's Salad.

Ham slices rolled in egg white omelet
I had Costillas de puerco en Tomate verde, a very well made dish.

Costillas en Tomate Verde
We left satisfied and happy.

I don't want to finish without mentioning the Panadería La Boquita, on Paseo La Boquita, between Plaza Kioto and Centro. It's a small bakery with above average pan dulces. I especially like the fruit or leche empanadas as well as their little loaves of nut and coconut breads.  Apparently, they do not sell pan salado or bolillo.
Closed Sundays. 
Fasten your seat belts. Street View Location.

This concludes our Zihuatanejo series. We hope to be back in the future.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

I’m just a Rugelach kind of guy

Cuernitos type Rugelach
One of the most appealing seasonal treats, especially around Hanukah, are Rugelach (various spellings), rich, flaky cream cheese mini pastries with fillings of raisins and nuts, or tangy fruit spreads. I like the classic ground walnut and raisin, also the gooier apricot jam plus nuts and bread or cake crumbs.

The traditional style is like a mini croissant, but these are very laborious and messy to make. A much easier form are miniature schnecken, snails, sort of a small cinnamon roll. 

The best Rugelach are small enough to be eaten in one or two bites as they are so rich. These are best made over two days, as the dough is mixed the first day, rolled out and filled, then baked on the second day. 

They are good keepers if you can keep your family’s, friends’  and your own hands off of them.

This recipe is derived from a professional formula in The Pastry Chef, p. 596, written by William J. Sultan, AVI Publishing Company, 1983

You will need a scale to measure the ingredients most accurately, and a substantial stand mixer with at least a 5 quart capacity bowl.

RECIPE Difficulty: Moderately challenging

Assemble the dough ingredients in advance of mixing.

Pastry Dough 
Cream Cheese 1 lb   2 oz
Unsalted Butter 1 lb  2 oz
Mix with paddle attachment until smooth and plastic.
Scrape sides and bottom of bowl.
Confectioner's sugar  4 oz
salt 1/2 - 1 tsp.
vanilla 1 tsp
lemon zest (optional) 1/2 tsp.
Blend in confectioner's sugar, salt and vanilla, lemon zest if using. Scrape bowl.
Mix well, scrape often
Add Bread Flour, 1 lb,  2 oz. Add flour in increments, blending well and scraping often. Mix thoroughly but do not develop the gluten.

Empty dough onto a work surface well dusted with flour. Form into a flattened rectangle. Roll out to about 3/8" thickness. It should be a rectangle about 2:3 ratio in dimensions.

First rollout
Brush off excess flour, give dough sheet a three fold (A letter fold. Remember paper letters?)

Adjust pants if needed
Turn dough 90º and give another three fold. Wrap in plastic film and place in a small pan. Refrigerate 30 - 60 minutes.

After the chilling period, take out dough and roll out into a rectangle and give it a four fold (A book fold. Books - remember them? Maybe this reference will rekindle your interest.), dusting off excess flour. Rewrap and refrigerate 12-24 hours.

Twenty-four hours later...
Remove dough from refrigerator, allow to come to cool room temperature, about 1 hour. Cut in half. Rewrap the other portion and set aside.

Roll the first portion out to form a rectangle about 1/8" thick.

 Smear evenly but not heavily with the filling of your choice. See below for ideas. **
Poppy seed schmear
Sprinkle generously with chopped walnuts or pecans. Sprinkle lightly with light cinnamon sugar mixture. Dry bread cake or bread crumbs are useful to retard filling melt and runoff.

Roll up from the long side to a diameter of about 1 1/4 inch diameter, seam side down.

With a sharp knife or a bench scraper, cut slices of about 1 '' width. Continue until all are cut.

Flatten rugelach slightly.
Brush lightly with melted butter and sprinkle lightly with white sugar.


The oven is preheated to 375º F. as the rugelach are panned onto parchment paper lined sheet pans.

After a 30 minute rest at room temperature, the are placed in the oven and baked about 18-22 minutes, turning and exchanging pans once. The finished rugelach should be lightly browned and tending toward crisp.

First rugelach out of the oven. Could be a bit wider and definitely browner
**Here are a few filling ideas.

Finely chopped walnuts or pecans and ground, soaked raisins. I soak the raisins in an orange or tangerine liqueur.

Poppy seed filling. Good direct from the can, but much better with a couple of TBSPS of lemon juice and some lemon zest.

Apricot jam: Smuckers low sugar, with more fruit works best. Other jams may run due to a scarcity of fruit and a high pectin content.

Almond: almond filling and chopped, toasted almonds. Would go well with grated semisweet chocolate, or mini chocolate chips.

You, too can be a rugelach baker, just by following the above instructions.

A big belly is not a requisite, but it can't hurt

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Zihuatanejo, December, 2012, Part 4

On Monday evening, we wanted pizza, but when we drove out to Jungle Pizza, near Playa La Ropa, we found it was closed.

Jungle Pizza Photo Courtesy of TripAdvisor
Click to enlarge
Later, we called and were told that they were on a reduced schedule until about December 16. All we could do was enjoy reading their online menu.

Click to enlarge
We turned around, and after getting slightly lost in a non touristic barrio of Outer Zihuatanejo and running the wrong way on a calle de un solo sentido, we  arrived at the venerable Atoles y Tamales Any. (web site)

Any's is good, Any's is reliable, but Any's is over priced. It is at Tourist Ground Zero in Zihuatanejo Centro.

We decided pozole would be a good thing for supper, and we were right. A medium pozole is $90 peso. It does come with a lot of supporting botanas, but many were not in their prime of youthful freshness. Sra. Cuevas had a pozole blanco and I a verde. Both were loaded with pork or chicken and sabrosos and were fully garnished to dress to your taste.

Pozole Verde Any's

Here's the Ratings:

Food: ***1/2

Service: ****

Price: $-$1/2 pp

Ambience: Kitsch Mexicano

Rest room: Didn't use it this time, fine on an earlier visit.


Zihuatanejo, Centro, Calle Ejido #18 (Frente a Banamex)

Beach entrance to El Manglar
Tuesday afternoon, after breakfast in our bungalow, we drove out toward Playa La Ropa again to have lunch at El Manglar, recommended to us by J.Pierce, a friend in Morelia.

Besides its pleasant, just off-beach setting, El Manglar is noted for its wildlife. Some colorful dining companions emerge to entertain you.

The Maitre d' will seat you.
The menu, as at may Zihua restaurants, tends toward some baroque compositions.

English menu for the Spanish deprived
Sra. Cuevas shared an appetizer with me of 3 grilled fish tacos. They looked unappealing but tasted good. Still, a bit disappointing in that the fish is chopped, not in morsels. They also included some melted cheese, always a cop out in my more snobbish opinion, but I must admit that I like the combination.

Grilled Fish Tacos
We owed a lot to the muy picante salsa. It's for real.

Realmente chingona
But you can order simple seafood or grilled meats. I ordered Sesame Crusted Tuna, but had the chef leave off the Pecan-Coconut Sauce (Really; who dreams up these IHOP type creations?). Instead, I got a simple mojo de ajo sauce, on the side. The tuna was done to my taste and the vegetables were cooked  al punto as well.

Sesame Crusted Tuna
La Esposa had Dorado Cooked in Banana Leaf. (Dorado seems to be Zihua's Fish of the Month). It was stuffed with shrimp and other seafood. She rated it a 3 1/2 on a 5 point scale.

Dorado cooked in banana leaf
Food: ***1/2

Service: ****

Price: $$. Our cuenta was $610 pesos, plus tip. But we had a several drinks and an extra dish*.

Ambience: Jungle Outpost with beach close by.

Restrooms are clean, modern facilities, out back, secured by vigilant security personell.

*Desserts were again limited to CREPES. (Must be a frozen crepes distributor in the region.) We had seen an adjoining table get this other, great looking dish, so we also ordered it, as our "dessert".

Fried Fresh Calamares
I think I enjoyed the calamares as much or more than any other dish we had at El Manglar.

I'll post a map so you don't get lost and eaten by crocs.

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