Casa de Colores School of Traditional Mexican Cooking

A Unique Culinary Adventure in Cabo

SOPA DE REQUESON

Say Cheese¡Saludos desde la Ciudad de Mexico!

Manuel and I just got back from a quick trip to our neighboring state of Hidalgo.  I was born and raised in and around mountain mining towns, and always feel most at home in one of these historical gems, a shining example being Mineral del Monte, Hidalgo (also known as Real del Monte, but that’s another story).

What sets Hidalgo’s mining towns apart from any others is the large and indelible footprint left by Welsh miners who showed up in the 1800s, showering the locals with incredible culinary and cultural riches including but not limited to soccer and… PASTES!  Pastes are everywhere in Hidalgo, but that’s another story.

I am actually going to whip a recipe on you all.  I really should do this more often!  It is cold in the mountains of Hidalgo at around 8000 ft., and I was particularly comforted and warmed by this fine example of Huasteca cuisine.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

SOPA DE REQUESON (Mexican Ricotta Soup)

Small package goat cheese

1 cup good quality sour cream or creme fraiche

8-10 oz. Mexican requeson or ricotta

2 c. milk

Whiz the above in a blender jar.

1 small white onion or two green onions, chopped

6 sprigs of fresh epazote, if you can get it (if not, leave it out)

1-3 serrano chiles, added bit by bit to taste

Add the above to the blender jar and give it another whirl.

Melt 3 T. unsalted butter in a soup pot until bubbly.  Pour in the blender contents and simmer to meld flavors.  This should take under five minutes–never let the soup boil.

Whisk in about 3 c. homemade chicken stock (no celery in Mexican chicken stock, please!).  Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

If you are feeling frisky, make a bean flautita (roll refried beans in a flour tortilla), fry til crisp in a little fresh oil and serve with the soup.

Garnish the soup with a dollop of cream and a couple of epazote leaves which you may fry in the same oil, if you can get ’em.

Yes, really simple, and infinitely comforting.

¡BUEN PROVECHO!

Donna

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LA MERCED – GREAT GRANDADDY OF TRADITIONAL MARKETS!

SHOPPING IN MEXICOCactus HeavenCactus Heaven…

¡Muchos saludos desde Cabo San Lucas!

I just got home from a serious chile buying expedition to South Central Mexico… sadly my little corner of the Mexican Republic is not blessed with traditional markets, but a short plane ride takes me straight into the heart of it all. These days we have domestic air carriers like Interjet and Volaris that make it easy and affordable to hop on over to Mexico City, Guadalajara and lots of other great destinations that DO shop the way they’ve done for over a thousand years!

La Merced is the largest retail market in Mexico City, which I would imagine puts it at the top of the heap nationally. It’s only about 13 blocks east of the Zocalo, the amazing public square in the Historical Center that is the cultural heart of the country. It’s named after its neighborhood, as well as the ancient monastery which previously occupied the sprawling space it inhabits. It is filled with life and color and smells and sights and sounds like no place else on the planet, well worth a visit if you are an adventurous traveler!

There are two metro stops for La Merced, including one that puts you right inside, immediately surrounding you with STUFF in surreal quantities, and the people hawking it are no less colorful.  Anything you can imagine, and lots of things you never even thought of are sold at this great- great- great-grandaddy of Mexican markets, including a mind-boggling array of ladies young and old selling their own personal wares in this place where prostitution is the norm, serving local working class men including the many many truck drivers who have spare time between loads.

I was on the hunt for dried chiles, and was not disappointed. After passing through nopal cactus heaven where the air is overwhelmingly fresh, corn heaven where corn on and off the cob surrounds you on all sides, leaf heaven with dried and fresh corn husks for tamales and mixiotes, GIGANTIC sweet-smelling banana leaves in huge neat bundles for tamales, pibil and other good things… finally we came upon the chiles.

And what chiles! After passing a few initial stalls with puny, dried up specimens we came upon rows and rows of stalls displaying soft, flexible, shiny, overwhelmingly fragrant chiles in all shapes and sizes.  I’m coming to the end of my season, so I only scored a couple of pounds of each (in their dried form, a pound is a bunch of chiles)–beautiful burgundy red anchos redolent of sun dried raisins for stuffing with cheese, meat mixtures, chorizo, potato and onion hash, or for making moles… shiny jewel red guajillos for salsas and soups, and even some long, midnight black Mexican pasillas with their rich, complex flavor, so fresh they brought tears to my eyes thinking of the pleasure of stuffing them with Menonite-made Chihuahua cheddar cheese and frying them golden in a tender egg batter….

Take a camera!

Take a camera!

So much to buy and so little space in the bags. Still, we had to get out of La Merced which meant passing through more indescribable quantities of STUFF, which of course had to include kitchen equipment… The first stall in the kitchen equipment area obviously had everything you could ever want or need to set up a commercial kitchen. I asked the friendly proprietor if she had molds for conchas, the Mexican sweet rolls with the seashell pattern cut into the streusel they’re topped with. Of course! Would you like that in stainless or tin? There’s a $10 peso difference in price–I went for the gusto, paying about $4.50 US for a beautiful stainless cutter with two patterns–cannot wait to bake! I have looked high and low for a concha cutter for years–naturally it’s the first thing you stumble over in La Merced.Conchas

And so much more… stainless steel pots and pans and skillets in every size and shape imaginable, commercial kitchen gear, utensils and lo! a fantastically beautiful array of COPPER comales! I had to have one! I suspect it will be wonderful for making tortillas, and sure looks good in the kitchen!

And of course, portable electric stone mills for grinding nixtamal for homemade, whole grain, stone ground corn tortillas. How ever will I get it back to Cabo? Stay tuned.

Don’t miss La Merced!

Muchos saludos y buen provecho,
Donna

FRESH WATERS!

¡Muchos saludos a todos!

Hard to believe it’s almost May–hot weather is just around the corner up North, though here at Baja’s Cape we have enjoyed an especially beachy winter.  Warm days make me want to share our best kept tropical secret for beating the heat–the thirst quenching Aguas Frescas of Mexico which are peddled at every market, restaurant, mall and park in Southern Mexico!

Say it… Fresh Waters…… don’t you feel cooler already?  If that didn’t do the trick, here is a short list of some of the flowers, fruits, seeds, nuts and grains from which your icy cold Agua Fresca might be concocted.

We make delightful jewel toned drinks from the flowers of hibiscus and bougainvillea–what could be more romantic on a hot summer day?  Any juicy fruit is a likely candidate, including lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruit; canteloupe, watermelon, papaya, mango, coconut, guayaba and pineapple. Strawberries and blackberries make delicate and delightful drinks, and don’t miss aguas with added chia seeds, fresh roasted cocoa beans or almonds!  Tamarind pods make for an addictive sweet and sour drink that is perfect over crushed ice with spicy tacos de carnitas…

You may have had horchata, which is similar to a spiced chai tea only made with rice. We do the same trick with oats, and there is a spiced barley water called cebada.  All of the grain drinks are likely to be perfumed with vanilla and cinnamon stick, and should be shaken or stirred before enjoying in order to reincorporate the spices which tend to settle.

Super simple to make at home, just grab a glass pitcher to show off the jewel colors of your agua, and add crushed or cubed ice.  Fill your blender jar with any juicy fruit, minus the peels and seeds, plus enough water to blend well.  Pour over the ice in the pitcher, filling with water to create a delicate fruit flavored “water”, as opposed to a thick fruit juice.  Sweeten if necessary with just enough Mexican standard (or turbinado) sugar to bring up the natural sweetness of the fruit and ¡abracadabra!   ¡Agua Fresca!

Cactus Heaven

Last but not least, if you have access to nopal cactus paddles, throw a freshly de-spined one in your blender jar along with chunks of fresh pineapple, fresh squeezed orange juice and a handful of fresh cilantro to enjoy a fresh “green juice” which Mexicans swear will cure most any ailment (in a distinctively refreshing way!).  Pour it over ice and drink it fresh, as the nopal sap tends to thicken as you hold it.  It’s well worth the effort–it’s a blood cleanser!

Hopefully this will get you started serving a fresh pitcher of Agua Fresca with meals, as traditional Mexicans do.

¡Buen provecho!

Donna

 

 

THE BIG SEVEN OF OAXACA

Traditional Mexican Ingredients

¡Muchos saludos a todos!

Manuel and I had a fine summer filled with food and travel in southern Mexico and Guatemala.  Four ladies joined us as we wound up our adventures with a personal tour of Oaxacan traditional markets, which will loom large in our memories.  The best mole powders and pastes are made and sold all over Oaxaca City, and as usual we wound up eating our way through the Big Seven Moles of Oaxaca…  and it occurred to me that I have never listed these for my foodie friends.

Plenty of people believe “mole” means “bad chocolate sauce”.  As it turns out, mole is not a Spanish word at all–it’s Nahuatl, the language the Aztecs were speaking long before the Spanish showed up.  Mole is the same word in Nahuatl as salsa in Spanish, which is to say that it means, simply, “sauce”.  These great sauces developed fully during the early days of the Spanish occupation of Mexico, and Oaxaca is the epicenter of this great culinary tradition.  There is some discussion and dispute as to just which moles make the cut, but the Big Seven generally runs something like this.

NUMBER ONE, first always, is Oaxacan Black Mole.  This deepest and most complex  delicacy virtually represents the Day of the Dead to the Oaxacan people, gracing many altars during this baroque celebration of death.  It contains 30 or more ingredients which may include the regional Chilhuacle Negro (an endangered chile found only around Oaxaca City), mulato, Mexican pasilla, guajillo, and ancho chiles; a burnt tortilla, egg bread, plantain, onion, garlic, sesame, almonds, peanuts, avocado leaf, thyme, marjoram, black pepper, allspice, star anise and cloves.  Flavors are balanced with salt and dark brown piloncillo, the first step in Mexican sugar making, usually molded into cones or bars.  The preparation of this mole is elaborate, best passed down from cook to cook.  It is sold as a spice paste which is melted into homemade chicken stock to serve with poached turkey or chicken, white rice and steamed vegetables.

NUMBER TWO is Amarillo (yellow) or Amarillito (little yellow), a very versatile mole which may be served as a stew with a variety of meats, and/or a combination of steamed chayote, green beans and potatoes and corn masa dumplings.  It may contain the ancho, guajilllo, chilcostle and costeño amarillo chiles, as well as Roma tomatoes, onion, garlic, whole cumin seed, cloves, black pepper and toasted tortillas, fresh cilantro and hierba santa, a perfumed herb known as “root beer  plant” in the north, as it contains the same fragrant oils used in making the stuff.

NUMBER THREE is Coloradito (light red)  from Oaxaca’s Central Valleys.  It is a thick , light, sweet sauce made from the chilcostle, guajillo, ancho and pasilla chiles; egg bread, Mexican rustic chocolate, Roma tomato, garlic, salt and dark sweet piloncillo.  It may be served with chicken, pork or beef and steamed white rice, garnished with toasted sesame seeds.

FOUR – Verde, or green mole.  This is a light, fresh, herbal sauce made with toasted pumpkin seeds, tomatillos, serrano chile,  oregano, marjoram, thyme, cloves, allspice, onion, garlic and fresh epazote and hoja santa.  Many people serve this mole with stewed white beans as well as light meats or seafood.

NUMBER FIVE is the rare, magical CHICHILO NEGRO made from the complex Chilhuacle Negro, the Mexican pasilla and mulato chiles; tiny tomatillos, red Romas, marjoram, black pepper, cloves and toasted tortillas.

NUMBER SIX is the controversial Manchamanteles (tablecloth stainer), a sweet, fruity mole served with pork and steamed rice for a colorful tropical banquet of a dish which may include fried plantains, ripe pineapple, sweet potatoes, apple, pear and peach along with the rare Chilhuacle Rojo chile of Oaxaca, and the ancho, guajillo, mulato and Mexican pasilla.  Some cooks argue that this is really a stew, though the line is a thin one if you consider the Amarillo, Estofado and Almendrado.

In SEVENTH place is Mole Rojo made with the Chilhuacle Rojo, ancho (and perhaps the guajillo, pasilla and cascabel), plus sesame seed, almonds, Mexican rustic chocolate, garlic, onion and fresh epazote.

This spot is shared by Estofado de Pollo con Aceitunas (Stewed Chicken with Olives), which is pretty much the same as Pollo Almendrado (Almond Chicken).  These delicious, elaborate stews are made and served with green olives, capers, toasted almonds and pickled jalapeño chiles.

Filet in Mole with chile ancho.JPG

I hope this list inspires you to go even unto Oaxaca City in search of the Big Seven!

¡Buen provecho!

Donna

MEXICAN BEANS!

Tortillas & BeansI shock myself how long I let it go between posts!  I have been wanting to talk to you about MEXICAN BEANS… it’s truly surprising how many people show up to cook and confess that they have no idea how to make a pot of beans.

Beans are magical.  Plant them and climb the stalk all the way to heaven; cook up a pot and feed a crowd for a pittance.  Black, white, red, yellow or the beautiful spotted pintos I grew up on in Arizona–beans are packed with nutrition and phenomenal fiber which is so lacking in the modern diet.  Quick like a bunny I would like to share my best tips for stewing up a good batch of beans.

Pick through your beans.  They come from the field, and if you fail, your guests may bill you for ensuing dental emergencies!  Wash well in a few changes of fresh water to remove dust and dirt.

Manuel and I like the quick soak method.  You can soak beans overnight, but then you really need to throw out the soaking water (along with vitamins and minerals), which may even begin to ferment.  We like to start with a quarter pot of beans (no matter what size pot you are cooking in) covered to 3/4 with water.  Bring to a boil, turn off the fire, cover and let stand for an hour.

After an hour add extra hot water if necessary.  If you add cold it stops the cooking and makes beans tough, so keep your tea kettle handy while cooking your beans.  Bring to a simmer, add a medium white onion, roughly chopped, a clove or three of garlic, roughly chopped… and simmer until you can mash a bean against the roof of your mouth with your tongue.  At this point you may add salt to taste and continue to cook until the beans are well cooked.

If you can get them, do what the Oaxacans do and toast two or three dried avocado leaves on your comal or over an open flame until they release their fragrance and simmer those into your beans, removing at the end of cooking like big dang bay leaves!  Alternatively, at the end of cooking, add a big handful of rough chopped epazote, a traditional bitter herb critical to southern Mexican cooking, and let the heat of the beans finish building in the extra flavor.  If you cannot find fresh epazote in your market, get the seeds.  It will grow anywhere you can grow basil, and it will take your Mexican dishes to a whole new level.  It even reseeds for me here in Cabo where we struggle for every drop of water!

A good indicator of well cooked beans  is the smell–absolutely irresistible!  I like to continue the cooking process after the hour of quick soak in my big crock pot.  Overnight on low, the deep, rich fragrance of well cooked beans wakes us to breakfast beans that always hit the spot with fresh chopped onion, whole wheat or corn tortillas, some cheese and ripe avocado.

People want to know how to deal with the wind produced by beans, and have heard all kinds of lore for creating “fart free” beans!  The truth is, most people are not used to eating the amount of fiber we were designed to eat to maintain healthy digestive systems.  The trick is to start eating small quantities of beans and other fiber rich foods at a sitting, slowly increasing until your system becomes accustomed to the good stuff.  Well worth the effort!

Beans freeze beautifully.  We bag them up to serve the two of us for a few days, and pull a fresh bag out of the freezer as needed.  To make refried beans, simply puree well cooked beans–black or pinto or whatever takes your fancy.  Heat a quarter sized splash of cooking oil in a deep skillet and pour the pureed beans onto the oil.  It will splatter, so be careful!  Stir and “fry” the beans until they are as thick as you like.  That’s all there is to it–virtually fat free homemade refried beans that sit perfectly on a tostada, burrito or huevos rancheros.

One last thing.  If your beans refuse to soften, those are antique beans!  If you get this year’s crop your beans may be softened and ready to add salt in as little as an hour and a half.  If after three or four hours of dedicated cooking your beans are balking, you may want to compost those suckers, follow your local Mexican population to where they are buying their beans and get a fresh batch.

There you have it, MEXICAN BEANS!  Who knew they were so simple, nutritious and delicious?  On a southern or southwestern note, make a big pan of hot cornbread with your pot of beans and bask in one of the true delights of being a human being…

!Buen provecho!

Donna

 

 

MY SEVENTH SEASON STARTS!

IMG_0545I have no idea where the time has gone, but here I am getting my seventh season in the kitchen underway.  It has been exciting having cooks from all over the planet drop by to cook up traditional Mexican foods that have wound up in kitchens from Thailand to Sweden!

I spent my summer as always in South Central Mexico traveling with Manuel, and recently we were invited to a very old and authentic Oaxacan restaurant in Mexico City’s beautiful Estrella district for supper.  Being close to Day of the Dead, we enjoyed looking over the ornate Oaxacan altars, replete with favorite foods prepared to welcome the spirit  friends of the owners and workers of Tanguyu- – meaning “clay doll” in the Zapotec language.  All dishes are prepared at the moment they are served, and my enmoladas — like enchiladas but prepared with mole instead of a chile sauce — were memorable indeed.  I wound up with a kilo of the mole colorado paste to take home, the best way to teach yourself to recreate a mole you particularly enjoy.

After supper, Manuel’s brother-in-law Pepe insisted we needed to “drop by” mass at the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, conveniently located near Tanguyu.  We walked into the enormous courtyard of the Basilica, packed with faithful Guadalupanos from all over Mexico and other parts of Latin America and the world in general, many of whom were settling in for the night on tarps with all their luggage serving as backrests.  Surely some folks don’t have the resources for a hotel, while others just as surely spend the night in vigil as an act of faith.  Everyone seemed right at home in the front yard of our local Goddess, swapping homemade tamales and other foods while watching professional groups of grandly outfitted Aztec dancers with animal head and three foot long quetzal feather headdresses and full body and face paint pound out the traditional Danza, a physical meditation performed within clouds of copal incense to the deep thrum of ceremonial drums you can feel inside your chest like a universal heartbeat.  They dance while holding the standard of the Virgin aloft, solid proof of the successful grafting of indigenous and European faiths in Guadalupe, the Mother of Us All.

Pepe’s intuition turned out to be pretty magical indeed.  As mass ended, the courtyard exploded in tower after tower of world class fireworks, spinning and gyrating images of different areas of Southern Mexico that specialize in the creation of these surreal, splendid creations, as well as animals, flowers, birds, and of course many images of the Virgin Herself outlined in glorious fire.  Rocket after rocket shot into the night sky, erupting in multi-colored displays of flowers, gigantic bubbles and even white shimmering rain falling down on the ecstatic crowd below for over two hours, accompanied by whizzes, whistles, snap-crackle-pops, and deep booms.  None of us had ever seen a display of this magnitude, and it turns out the mass was a special one for the fireworks makers of Mexico, who do this only once a year… and we just happened to be present!

I never cease to be amazed by the surreal quality and the endless variety of life in this fantastic country.   In my kitchen I always encourage people to come to South Central Mexico for lunch!  You will never look at Mexican food the same way.

!Buen provecho!

Donna

No More Classes Until October 15!!

IMG_1189

It’s been a fantastic season, starting out slow on the heels of Odile… we did our first classes last October out of my home kitchen with an ice box, feeling very much like we’d slipped through a time warp back into the old Cabo,,,  Ten months and a whole bunch of construction later, the Casa de Colores is better than ever with a brand new metal structure roof and gigantic deck, plus a whole lot more.

I will be in Mexico City with Manuel as of Sunday, crawling through South Central Mexico’s legendary traditional markets like the one shown above. .  IMG_1199

It’s Tlaxcala’s thousand year old pre-Hispanic market, and these tamales are sold by ancestors of the original vendors… still made from lake fish stuffed with tiny lake fish, wrapped in the inner membrane of the cactus tequila is made from–mixiote–then charred directly in glowing coals until cooked to smoky perfection.  Such a shock to first world eyes to see not only pre-Hispanic, but pre-HISTORIC cooking still going on in Mexico, like the ancient recipe for stone soup, cooked by adding hot rocks to each bowl!

I turn 60 in October, and Manuel will be 64.  As he is a huge Beatles fan, it has to be a major celebration–we’re thinking Cuba, or possibly Chiapas/Guatemala… stay tuned.  In any case we will be crawling through markets collecting ideas and ingredients for my seventh season, which will begin on October 15th.  Hope to see you there.

Have a great summer, and keep cooking MEXICAN!

!Provecho!

Donna