22 November, 2014

Tastes Like... Calabaza

Last year I wrote about how to cook and puree a pumpkin for making pies, muffins and soups.  This year when we ordered Calabaza from the produce stand we really had no idea what we would get.  The literal translation of Calabaza is Squash.  

In English we usually refer to the different squash by their common names; pumpkin, zucchini, crook neck...  So my Calabazas arrived and I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that they looked similar to what I call Baking Pumpkins, just more colorful.  I asked the produce owner and they told me these are known as Calabazas de Castilla (Castle Pumpkins) which according to my Google search is a rare heirloom variety.  How blessed we are to live in Mexico where heirloom varieties are still honored and regularly used on the farm!  One blogger was boasting her success in reviving this variety and selling seeds at an astonishingly high price... sure wish I had Googled before I cooked!

With Thanksgiving coming up I tucked right into these pumpkins as usual.  But the Chef was hogging working in the kitchen, so I set up on the island and scooped all the seeds and pumpkin guts into a separate container for space saving purposes and speed.  You see when the Chef is in the kitchen and I want to cook I tend to try to work small and quick...as if he will not notice my pumpkins taking over his whole oven... I never said it was logical!  

I had to lob off the pointy tops of the pumpkins to make them fit in the oven, that is when the Chef turned around.  He asked if I was going to use the tops.  I hesitated...thinking of roasted pumpkin seeds and cubing the tops for a savory dish...TOO LATE!  The Chef had commissioned my guts, seeds and tops and before I could yell WAIT A MINUTE he had slopped all of it into a large pot and was dumping a couple liters of milk over the top.  To that he added a small stick of Cinnamon and a good size chunk of Piloncillo.

I ended up with a gallon of the most pumpkin-ey smelling puree I think I have ever made.  These pumpkins cooked so nicely, the inside just scooped out with a spoon and the puree blended to a nice velvety consistency.  Satisfied I tucked it into the fridge, ready for pies, muffins and soups for Thanksgiving.  Meanwhile the Chefs goopey looking concoction was smelling so good I could just die!  The smells wafted through all three stories of the house and there was no getting away from the intoxicating wisps of pumpkin. Not able to handle another second, I snuck downstairs to stick my finger in the pot.  I had NO IDEA that the Pumpkin Guts were of any use.  But Mexicans are not ones to waste and the Chef was following a recipe taught to him by his grandmother, and she never wasted ANYTHING!  The flavor!!!  It was so intensely pumpkin.  It had 20 times the flavor of my puree, a nuttyness from the seeds, just the right amount of warmth from the cinnamon but not the tell tale Pie Spice mix, very subtle.  Piloncillo has its own unique flavor that makes all warm beverages sing.  It was absolutely divine, although it still looked kind of pumpkin gut-ish and gross. I drowned my tears of so many years of lost pumpkin guts in the glorious pumpkin gut broth and slinked back to my room without being caught. 

After a couple hours simmering on the stove, the chef used the widest pasta strainer we had and basically just removed the seeds from the guts.  He pureed the milk and gut mixture, then spooned in the meat from the tops. I grabbed an espresso cup and tucked in when he was not looking. The flavors where stronger than pumpkin pie, but like drinking a warm cup of Pumpkin Pie filling (sans eggs).  It was absolutely delightful!  Like nothing I had every tried before, but never wanted to stop trying.  The Chef had made an ancient version of Dulce de Calabaza.  We picked the seeds out of their soggy shell, spread them on a pan and toasted them in the oven.  I may be the only person that did not know that you are supposed to peel and eat pumpkin seeds like you would sunflower seeds.  I always just ate the whole fibrous mess... I have been lead so far astray!  In Spanish they are called Pepitas and you can find them peeled on nearly every street corner.  I am told they are good for you... lots of zinc and the like.  I think they are simply glorious snacks, period.

Now there are endless things you can do with this Pumpkin Gut Puree.  And so, like all passed down recipes, this is not a recipe at all.  Simply an idea that I challenge you to explore.

Seeds and Pumpkin Guts
Chunks of Pumpkin (skin and all) optional
Milk (equal parts pumpkin guts and milk)
Small Cinnamon Stick
Piloncillo or Brown Sugar

Simmer in a large pot until the milk has reduced.
Separate the Pumpkin guts and Pumpkin from the seeds. Remove Cinnamon Stick
Puree. Peel the chunks of pumpkin and spoon into the finished puree.  It gives a nice texture and is fun when you find a nice chunk in your dessert.
Peel the pumpkin seeds and toast or fry if desired.

Serving Options:
Serve warm in a mug dolloped with Whip Cream sprinkle toasted seeds on top.
Make a mouse (gelatin version or simply fold into slightly sweetened whipping cream)
Add a few heaping spoon fulls to your coffee in the morning
Panna Cotta
Ice Cream... Anything but Pie, please!

Comment below if you make something with the pumpkin guts.  I would love to hear what you come up with!

12 November, 2014

Wine and Food Trip to Valle de Guadalupe with The Wine Guy and Chef Boris

Wine and Food Trip to Valle de Guadalupe with The Wine Guy and Chef Boris Olvera

What: Enjoy a long weekend of Wine and Food
Who: With The Wine Guy and Chef Boris
Where: Ensenada and Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California
When: February 6-9, 2015
Why: Because you love wine and food and want to sample some truly superb Mexican offerings!
How. Book with Jessi your Local Travel Agent

Jessi, Travel Agent with Ships and Trips Travel

Trip Includes: for those traveling from the US
*Private Round Trip Transportation from the San Diego Airport to Baja California to meet up with the group
*Hotel Accommodations at Hotel Punta Morro for 4 days 3 nights in a One Bedroom Suite with King Size Bed
*Private Transportation and Transfers in Baja California
*Two days of hosted wine tasting in the Valle de Guadalupe, tasting fees included
*with Special Lunch Accommodations
*Special Hosted Dinners, reservations available

Those coming from the US
Cost per person is $800 + airfare to San Diego 
Single Supplement $300.00
Non-refundable Deposit $500.00 
Price based off of group rate of 10 persons

Final Payment Due 1/07/15

All meals are On Your Own. Dinner reservations for the hosted Dinners at Corazon de Tierra and Restaurante Punta Morro will be arranged for you if desired. Tipping is not included.

09 November, 2014

Tastes Like...Rompope

Rompope is a drink classically enjoyed during Christmas.  Many call it Mexican Eggnog, but not to the face of a Mexican of course.  Although similar in some ways it is so drastically different in flavor, texture, presentation, preparation...I could go on and on...that it seems wrong to say it is even LIKE eggnog.

Yes it is thick and creamy and spiced with familiar Christmas-y spices.  But the way that you prepare and serve is completely different.  Most Mexicans think that Eggnog is gross (could be that they call it Egg Punch... not the best start for our favorite holiday beverage) and the fact that us Gringos add vanilla is considered out right criminal!  Additionally Rompope is an alcoholic beverage.  Eggnog can also be, yes, I know... but the stuff that you buy in the stores is not.  Rompope you purchase in the spirits section not the milk section of the store.

So what does it taste like... Other than Christmas? Rompope is Milk that is slowly steeped with Cinnamon, Nutmeg and Clove.  It has a nice spicy flavor of Mexican Cinnamon with the back up from Clove and Nutmeg.  Egg yolks are then added to give it the creamy texture and to thicken it.  But it is not remotely as thick as eggnog.  Alcohol when you are making Rompope at home, varies by taste.  Although classic choices are Cane Alcohol, Rum, Brandy or Whiskey.  We like barrel aged alcohol as it complements the spices with a nutty finish.  But the choice is up to the cook.... it can also be omitted.

Gelitina con Rompope / Gelatin with Rompope
Paletas de Rompope / Rompope Popsicles
Year round you will find Rompope flavored treats and you will always see faces light up like Christmas lights no matter what time of year when Rompope flavored ...Whatever is offered.  Rompope Ice cream, Popsicles, Rompope Flan, Rompope flavored Gelatin, Gelatin WITH Rompope...  The creamyness balanced by the spice of the cinnamon is what gives Rompope its distinct flavor.

So this year, wither you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanza, I challenge you to make Rompope for your celebrations.  It is a lot easier than making Eggnog and the flavor is so unique that you may start a new holiday tradition.

***I am giving you the Ratio below so that you can decide how much you want to make.  Every recipe that I looked up online called for something between 9 and 20 egg yolks... which just seems crazy to me!  So I am providing you with the base to the drink and you can add spices as you wish.  Some recipes added salt as well. Other Latin American recipes added almonds. Additionally the recipes that I found got really complicated with the hand mixer and adding the egg yolks, the whole thing had to be strained because they had egg clumps... I am a huge fan of the blender and so have adapted the recipe in both size and directions so that you do not get egg chunks or have to strain the whole thing...basically I came up with a faster and lazier way to do it ;)  I suppose if you were going to make a huge batch you could use a stand mixer with a large bowl.

Ratio: 1 cup whole milk to 1 egg yolk to <1/4 cup sugar (sweeter if you plan on adding liquor)

Serves 4
4 cups Whole Milk
2 inch stick of Mexican Cinnamon
3 Whole Cloves
1/8 tsp Freshly Grated Nutmeg
1/2-3/4 cup Sugar (1/2 if no alcohol 3/4 if adding alcohol)
4 egg yolks
0-1 cup alcohol of your choice (recommend Cane Alcohol for most authentic taste)

Pour milk into a thick bottomed pot and add the spices. (You may want to use a spice egg or cheese cloth for the cloves so you do not have to strain the milk later or fish out the cloves one at a time)
Simmer on the lowest heat until the milk is heavily spiced.
Remove from heat and remove the cinnamon and cloves.
In the blender (or use a hand-mixer) blend the sugar and the eggs.  Whisk until the eggs are extra creamy and the sugar is fully incorporated.  
Slowly pour the warm milk into the egg mixture while vigorously whisking (this is why I like to use the blender).  Repeat for 2-3 cups of warm milk into the egg mixture.
With the milk still off of the flame slowly pour the egg and milk mixture into the remaining warm milk while whisking vigorously.  *This is so you do not cook the egg yolks and end up with goopey chunks in your Rompope.
Once fully incorporated return to the heat on low flame.
Stir frequently while cooking the Rompope until it starts to reduce and evaporate.
Once it has reached the desired consistency remove from the stove and allow to cool.
Add alcohol and chill.
Serve cool or room temperature.  Garnish with a sprinkle of Cinnamon, Nutmeg or Cardamon* if desired.  Bonus Mexican Points if you make Buñuellos to accompany.

If for some crazy reason you have any leftover (hahahaha) you can pour into clean and dry bottles.  Tie a ribbon around the neck and give away as gifts.

*Not traditional but oh so delicious!

22 May, 2014

Feelin' the Beet

I am very weird when it comes to food.  If I do not like something, I throw a fit like an 8 year old, and then eventually try it again.  Just because I did not like it the first time does not mean I will not like it in a different presentation, or prepared by a different person.  I used to HATE scallops until I tasted the Chef's preparation of Scallops with Risotto.  That is when I realized that it depends on the presentation, technique and cooking time.  Scallops should be sweet and succulent and tender.  I thought that they were bland and rubbery.  I am delighted now when I have the chance to eat scallops again.

The only thing that has never made it off of the Icky List is Eggplant and Coconut though I have to admit that I have eaten both in presentations that I found enjoyable.  I am still not much of a fan!

One item that was sharing the short list right along side Eggplant and Coconut was Beets!  I was actually disappointed to not like beets as I adore all root vegetables including some funky odd balls like Salsify and Sunchokes.  But they tasted like dirt to me.  Just brightly colored balls of earthiness.  I could not see the appeal.  Although I loved that is was usually paired with Goat Cheese!

Moving to Mexico I gave beets another chance.  The Chef lives for roasted beets and can eat them by the pan full.  There is always a curious draw to the blood red as it oozes all over the roasting pan.  Like a moth to a flame, I was sucked in.  The Chef has added a Beet Salad to our Brunch Menu with a Honey Citrus Dressing.  So one Sunday I got brave.  I loved it!  The beets were sweet!  I couldn't believe it.  Could the terroir literally have changed the dirt flavor?  Or were my taste buds changing as I approached my three.... oh never mind that's, not it!!!  

I have found myself sneaking into the kitchen and snitching those gorgeous red globes from the fridge and experimenting with their flavors and seeing if they play nice with anything other than goat cheese.  Not that I am complaining, I love goat cheese!

I have discovered that the sweet earthiness of the beet loves to pair with acidity; be it from tangy Heirloom Tomatoes or with a zippy Citrus Dressing.  But I wanted to take beets further than the salad menu.

I adore the "Adult Grilled Cheese" as coined by Chef Cindy Pawlcyn... my favorite on her menu at Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen of course.  The sandwich makings change daily, and are always a lot of fun!  The last time that we dined there before leaving the valley the daily special consisted of Rustic Walnut Bread, Fontina and Gruyere, with Apricot Chutney, Apple Wood Smoked Bacon optional....Swoon!

Thus was born the Adult Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Feta, Beets and Baby Spring Mix.

Simple enough really; layer thin slices of roasted beets with feta cheese on a piece of bread, grill, when cheese is melted open, add a healthy pinch of spring mix. Presto!  

But if I am going to post a recipe for you guys it needs to be perfection, tried and tested until proven worthy.  Trust me that the sandwich was delicious, so much so that once I finished it I wanted another and then another... 

But there was something nagging at the back of my brain; how to grill the bread???  Being American I always grab straight for the butter when it comes to grilled cheese sandwiches.  Boris, being a Chef toasts the bread in the toaster and grills the CHEESE directly in the pan.  I still cannot figure out how it does not stick!  And don't tell him, but grilling the cheese makes it taste even better!  I have heard some people use Mayo to grill bread for sandwiches... and then still there is what I call country bread which is fried in a skillet on both sides.  Dilemma!!!

Left: Butter Center: Mayo Right: Oil 
Left: Butter Center: Mayo Right: Oil
This called for scientific research.  So I enlisted the neighbor kids and the Chef.  Unanimous vote for Mayo!  I was surprised!  Even the Chef voted against his method.  And the best part is the mayo took longer to toast, meaning the cheese was more gooey and the tang of the mayo will compliment the beets perfectly!

So there you have it.  To make the best grilled cheese you need to fry the bread with Mayo.  And to kick it  up a notch for the adults, add some goats milk cheese like Feta or Raclette and layers of Beets.  I think you will be feelin' it too!

Adult Grilled Cheese Sandwich 
with Feta, Beets 
and Baby Spring Mix

Sliced Bread
1/2 Roasted Beet (per sandwich)
Salt and Pepper
Feta Cheese or other Goats Milk Cheese
Spring Mix

Slather your bread with Mayo on both sides.  
Add Dijon mustard to what will be the inside,
Layer thin slices of beet and slices of feta cheese.
Don't forget to salt and pepper your beet slices!
In a Iron Skillet on low heat toast the sandwich on both sides until golden brown and the beets and cheese are warmed through.  ***Depending on how firm the feta is it will get somewhat melty but not gooey. If you want an ooey gooey sandwich I recommend a Goats Milk Raclette.***
Remove from the heat and peel apart the sandwich.  Toss in a generous pinch of Spring Mix.
Cut in half and enjoy with a glass of wine, because that is what us adults can do!

19 May, 2014

A Perfect Day in Coyoacan, Mexico City

I adore Coyoacan, a bohemian neighborhood in the middle of Mexico City.  It is my respite from the hustle and bustle that is Mexico City and I relish my moments there.  But of course, my perfect day in Coyoacan is centered around the delectable treats more than the museums.

I have attached my walking MAP  here so that you can change it and plan your own trip.  Walking is easy in Coyocan because it is so small.  DO check out the museums!  Add at least one to your daily itinerary (but beware most Churches and Museums are CLOSED on Monday's).

My day in Coyoacan always starts out at Cafe el Jarocho, a famous coffee shop that has been making coffee for...well... forever.  But you wont find your Mocca Frappe Starbucks stuff here.  You get COFFEE, and if you ask nice... some milk.  Just around the corner about half a block you can pop in for some Churros to go with your coffee or plop down on a bench in front of the Cafe and chew the fat with the old timers, or just mosey on down the road to the park.  

After enjoying my coffee in the Art Plaza, it is all you can do to keep me away from the public market where I can now find the Tostadas Coyoacan stand with my eyes closed!  Piles and mountains of the most delectable tostada toppings severed with a rainbow of Aguas Frescas.  It is a sensory overload for the taste buds!  Or as I like to think of it: Heaven!!! 

*Take note: there is only ONE Tostadas Coyoacan!  They have 4 stalls in the near center of the market all clustered together, 2 for Tostadas and 2 for Aguas, it does not matter where you sit, the many waiters will certainly help you find a place.  Every single stand in the place will tell you that THEY are the real deal, so read the signs. In the last few years they have continued growing and adding more stalls a little more scattered off of the central cluster.  The waiters will direct you to a seat and give you a slip to start ordering away, you will know when you are in the right place.

After all that food it is time to walk!  So it is on to visit the church where Boris was Baptized San Juan Bautista, and of course the famous park: Jardin del Centenario.  These two parks and plazas are right across the street from each other and are the heart of Coyoacan.  There is much to see and do and taste in this area.  

You can also catch a Trolley Tour from in front of the San Juan Bautista Church that will show you the sights in less than an hour.  

Just off of the plaza to the far side of the Church is a hidden street food gem.  If Tostadas are not your thing, or you are my food hero and you can still eat more behind the (sadly now closed) La Guadalupana is a market of street food stalls. 

Delicious fried Quesadillas, Esquites, Menudo... all you need to absorb alcohol and muster enough strength for the party to rage on.  This is the ideal night stop... but they go all day!  It is conveniently in the area where you will find the most bars and cantinas.

I love the Conchita Church, and always make a point to wander past and through the little park.  You will find many the star struck lovers snuggled together on the park benches. 

The Frida Plaza is also in that same area and often has festivals or art shows.  It is worth walking by to see what is going on.  There is many a cute shop or stand to check out in between Conchita Church and the center of Coyoacan.  Wandering around is highly recommended.  You cannot really get too lost.

Since all that exercise deserves a treat: time to stop at Las Nieves Coyoacan to try one of their sorbets or ice creams  of exotic fruits!  My personal favorite is Helado de Mamey....so creamy!  

A must to sit in the park to enjoy your treat and rest your feet.

To bring the tour full circle it is on to the artisan stalls at the Mercado Coyoacan.  But NO TOUCHING!  They get really fussy about that!  Pictures are not recommended either.

That is a one day shot at Coyocan but you could easily stay a week.  There is so much to do and see.  But it is also nice just to stay and relax.

Extra Tid Bits:
Sunday is my all time favorite day in Coyoacan.  The vendors really roll it out.  

There is every type of treat you can imagine.  My favorite stop on Sunday's is just across from the Market.  There is a small Plaza that they fill with Art for sale.  But in order to work up the much needed appetite for Tostadas they have live music and dancing on one corner of the plaza.  Stop in and check it out.  

But be warned: if you stand too close or look too interested in this amazing dance called Danzon a lively elder will grab you up before you can say Boo! and give you an impromptu dance lesson!  Great fun!!!

Do not even attempt to visit the Frida Museum on a Sunday, unless you feel like wasting your whole day in a line that wraps around the block.

The only down side to only visiting Coyoacan on a Sunday is that the week days are when you can get Tacos de Canasta.  Early morning on the way to work is when you get this specialty that I have only ever found in Coyoacan, although they do sell it in other parts of the country the true version is found here.  

Look for a man on a bicycle with a large basket covered with blue plastic. Usually he will set up on a street corner about a block in from a busy main street.  Inside are the little treasures known as Tacos de Canasta.  They come in various flavors but usually stick to potato, Adobado spiced potato, Chicharon en Salsa, and beans.  Be VERY CAREFUL of the salsa.  

It may look like unassuming Guacamole but the Chilangos are some of the few Mexicans who love their spice.  That salsa will destroy the best of you spice lovers!  No joke!!!

The only other day to be aware of is Monday.  A lot of Churches and Museums close on Monday's.  

25 February, 2014

Cooking Classes and Fun with Chef Boris Olvera

Did you know that we have cooking classes?!?!  Well we do and they are becoming quite popular thanks to a review from a famous San Miguel Blogger.  

We know that when people visit San Miguel they want to experience the real Mexico, and what better way to dive into the Mexican culture than to TASTE IT?!  We now offer TWO types of cooking classes.  One is the planned class that Don Day describes in his blog.  Offering a menu of Raw Salsa and Chips, a Fresh Salad with Homemade Dressing, a Traditional Mexican Dish (real home food) with its accompaniments and then a Traditional Mexican Dessert for just $350 pesos per person.  

Option two is catered completely to your desires.  Want to learn how to make Chiles Rellenos? Flan? Truss a bird like Julia Child?  Whatever your flavor we bring everything to you! Cost is $300 pesos per person plus cost of supplies.  You can invite a few friends, select a menu and get to work on your favorite dishes that you have always wanted to learn how to make.

We have so many fun and exciting events coming up:  Cooking Classes, Private Dinners, Wine Trips and Tours around Central Mexico!  Do not get left behind! Follow us on Facebook or shoot me an email to be added to the mailing list!

15 February, 2014

Tastes like ... Cuitlacoche

Also spelled as Huitlacoche; we are talking about the prized black rot that grows on infected corn.  A prized possession in the Mexican market and priced accordingly.  I HATE that it has been translated to be called Corn Smut!  Smut sounds to me like something you should be scraping off of your shoe not a delicacy defended even by the government.  That`s right my friends GMO corn is banned in Mexico because GMO corn does not produce this staple ingredient in the Mexicans World Heritage Cuisine.  I prefer to call it Corn Truffles.  If the French can wax elegantly about rot rooted from the ground by trained swine why should I not be able to call it Corn Truffles?

Cuitlacoche (weet/lah/KOH/tcheh)  is a fungus that grows only on select ears of corn.  You will only find it in the markets during the summer season (June through September).  I recommend purchasing it still attached to the husk.  It is much better to risk getting your fingers smudged black then to have mushy Cuitlacoche. You do not know until you open it up what you have.  Which is why it is so rare and sought after.  You cannot force it to grow and it will only grow on heirloom varietals of corn.  Monsanto eat your heart out!  Cuitlacoche is LOADED with protein and many Native American tribes considered it a source of meat.  The kernels of infected corn grow much larger than the size of a regular kernel and is a dark grey to almost black color.  It looks like a mushroom growing inside of an ear of corn.  The flavor is earthy similar to a mushroom but also sweet like fresh corn.  Many people complain that it is mushy, but just like every ingredient in the kitchen if it is not cooked properly or fresh it can have adverse affects.  I have eaten Cuitlacoche many times and discovered that it is not in fact mushy at all unless it has been over cooked or was not fresh.  You can purchase CANNED Cuitlacoche around the world, from what I can see on the web,  I would not recommend it!

Cuitlacoche is most often served as a guisado.  Meaning it is prepared as a basic dish and then can be added to your plate of choice, tacos, quesadillas, relleno filling...  It also makes a delicious soup, although many are afraid to try because the color can be off-putting.  It is popularly paired with Flor de Calabaza or Squash Blossoms as they both are delicacies that come into season at the same time.