Archive for March, 2011
The special new man in my life and I both enjoy cooking and experiencing diverse cultures. He has owned a condo in Cabo since the 1980’s and I’ve driven a fair amount through regions in Mexico . Still both of us marveled at our adventures in traditional Mexican Cooking with Donna, at her home Casa de Colores. Donna is a beautiful person, her home is an artful assemblage of Mexican folk-art/ nature/and craftsmanship, her professional Mexican culinary “classroom” is a place for connecting while cooking and the actual classes far exceeded our expectations (which were high to begin with).
Having found Donna on-line, via emails we discussed menus, options, costs and logistics. Donna offered a smorgasbord of whatever we wanted; group or individual classes, set or eclectic menus, market tours etc. What was consistent is that the recipes consisted of authentic regional Mexican dishes and the cost for these experiential classes was far less than a meal at a quality restaurant..
We opted for the market tour, the basic traditional Mexican cooking group class and a private class with an eclectic self-selected menu (enchiladas, a signature fried fish with garlic chips sauce and tortilla soup). Every dish was filled with colors and flavors of Mexico .
Not only were the recipes that we prepared delicious; as in most classes, it’s about relationships. Donna, an ex-pat from Arizona has fun with her students and meets their every need, transportation if needed, aprons for men and women, tequila, a couch for a quick snooze or for those academically inclined- a certificate of completion to display with other degrees.
This was a formidable experience that we both highly recommend to all who visit this region; couples, families, single men or women etc. Other than being with each other- this was the highlight of our trip. Even if cooking is not one of your passions, the experience will broaden your conception of regional Mexican cuisine; you’ll have fun and probably enjoy the best meals of your trip. http://casadecolores.wordpress.com/
UNQUESTIONABLY… Mexican food is growing ever more popular in the world of good eating, and the pressure is on for quality authentic ingredients. One of the most essential is queso… Mexican cheeses which are rapidly moving beyond Latin enclaves into mainstream markets.
There are at least a dozen different Mexican cheeses which are now being produced in the West, about half of them widely distributed — the rest you have to search out locally or over the Internet. Some are known by more than one name, and most are made from cow’s milk. Most are white or cream colored with a mild, fresh taste, though a few are sharp and intense, perfect for garnishing spicy Mexican dishes.
The way they behave in cooking divides them into three categories: Fresh, mild cheeses that hold their shape when heated; good melting cheeses; and aged, sharp, crumbly ones.
Fresh and melting-type cheeses should be used quickly, as they tend to spoil. Once the package is open, eat or use within a few days — the melting types may hold up to a week. If the taste and smell is sour or the cheese is discolored, toss it.
Saltier cheeses contain less moisture and keep longer under refrigeration. The same rules apply — if it smells or looks off, out it goes.
Look for Panela, a very fresh, mild cheese made from curds drained in a basket — the cheese will bear the attractive pattern. It has a squeaky texture similar to fresh Italian buffalo mozzarella. It softens but doesn’t melt and is great in sandwiches, salads and soups. Try pan-frying slices in a nonstick skillet over medium heat, or grill it.
Queso fresco (also known as ranchero) is another fresh cheese with a slightly salty taste and somewhat crumbly texture. Substitute farmer’s or ricotta cheese. Softens when heated, but holds its shape. Traditional topping or filling for tacos, tostadas, chiles rellenos, enchiladas, quesadillas, beans, etc.
Chihuahua (get Menonita if you can) melts beautifully like jack or cheddar. Shred or slice into quesadillas, enchiladas or anywhere a melting cheese works. Can become stringy if overheated.
Oaxaca is a string cheese wound into balls of varying sizes, or sold in strands which may be pulled apart like a typical string cheese. Great in quesadillas, nachos etc.
Manchego is another common melter — use like Chihuahua.
Cotija (or añejo, aged cheese) is crumbly, salty and a bit pungent. Depending on how it’s made, it can be soft like feta, or firm and more complex, like parmesan. It can be used like feta or parmesan, and is the traditional garnish on tacos, enchiladas etc.
There are many more, but I hope this will get you working with whatever Mexican cheeses are available to you, and on the hunt to find more!
I find surprisingly little written about the vibrant, colorful pre-Hispanic market in Tlaxcala, capital city of Mexico’s tiniest state also named Tlaxcala. During my recent trip I dropped by the Governor’s Palace to feast my eyes upon beautiful murals depicting the market as it was in the heyday of the Nahua people who founded it in the 13th century, long before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century.
Tlaxcala’s market still operates in the same spot, selling many of the same foods and goods that were sold hundreds of years ago, possibly by ancestors of today’s vendors. This creates nothing short of a magical market environment which increases exponentially with the addition of a huge weekend market set up under tarps, including the spirited sale of live animals.
As I shop, I enjoy looking at the faces of the vendors and customers as much as the colorful and endless array of goodies.
The cuisine of Tlaxcala is similar to neighboring Hidalgo, Puebla and the Federal District of Mexico City. You will find barbacoa, mixiote, tamales and quesadillas de comal made with a wide variety of fresh local ingredients including edible insects considered to be great delicacies like escamoles (ant eggs) and maguey larvae.
Mixiotes are the outer membrane of young of maguey cactus leaves, removed in sheets to wrap little bundles of marinated meats and chiles to be steamed as you would a tamale like these beautiful pre-Hispanic Tamales de Pescado, fish tamales made with local freshwater fish stuffed with more teeny tiny fish.
There is a beautiful variety of mushrooms, both cultivated and harvested from the wild, squash flowers, cactus fruits and nopales, multicolored ears of corn and of course, the bitter herb epazote. The selection of dried chiles reflects Tlaxcala’s love of moles, simple ones for everyday and more elaborate moles like those of Puebla for special occasions.
Tlaxcala is Mexico’s teeny tiniest state just north of Puebla and only about an hour and a half from Mexico City. It’s a beautiful city steeped in history and culture, yet I only saw a small handful of tourists—Germans—during my visit. I’ll do another entry on Tlaxcala’s amazing market which has operated on the same spot for hundreds of years, long before the arrival of the Spanish and still selling many of the same products sold since it first opened, including live animals! I also want to tell you about my visit to Mexico City…
But today I want to put up a few pictures of El Portalito, a tiny kitchen serving up home cooked breakfast and comida not far from Manuel’s house in Tlaxcala. He took me there knowing I would appreciate the artistry that went into decorating the tiny place, and the home cooked breakfast the ladies turn out there every day for amazingly little money.
I haven’t forgotten about the volcano! Not just one – Tlaxcala has fantastic views not only of the aptly named active volcano, Popocatépetl, “Smoking Mountain” – definitely smoking away as we speak, spewing plumes of ashes and steam – but also the lovely, sweeping slopes of dormant La Malinche, named after Hernán Cortés’ indigenous lover and interpreter, and yet another dormant beauty known as La Mujer Dormida, “The Sleeping Woman”. There are beautiful hilltop ruins overlooking Tlaxcala and the many charming towns which surround it, each with its own church. The ruins include the base of an ancient pyramid called the Pirámide de los Volcanos, the “Pyramid of the Volcanoes”, a reminder that this area has always lived under the spell of the volcanoes that surround it. It’s great to be back in beautiful Baja, but I really enjoyed my visit to this special corner of Mexico with its wealth of culture and traditional cuisine!
Don’t forget to wash your hands before eating…