Archive for January, 2011
I have been cooking a lot lately with people coming to Cabo from all over the known universe on cruises.
Many people want to find alternative activities that allow them to see the real Mexico. Small, personalized cooking classes are perfect – I love to share moments of discovery as we take a little cook’s tour to buy fresh ingredients on the way to class, and to visit my unsung heroes, the cooks of Mexico who nourish a nation, hard at work.
I fulfill my mission to share Mexican culture through traditional foods when I take cooks off the beaten path, introducing them to flavors and culinary experiences they would otherwise miss. I know from letters I receive when people return home that they continue to use new flavors and techniques they learned during their Cabo stopover to create their own Mexican specialties – the ultimate souvenir!
People comment that our time together is the highlight of their cruise, and these enthusiastic visitors also create extra special memories for me — and in many cases lasting friendships based on good company, good food and good times! What could be better?
¡Buen viaje y buen provecho!
While I was in Soriana photographing their colorful, highly aromatic bakery, I thought I would stop in fruits and vegetables. I continued to attract attention with my camera, but shoppers were obviously appreciative of the subject!
The traditional market feel spills over into this department, which obviously caters to Mexican cooks. White onions are presented naked and shining, looking like giant pearl onions, and tomatillos are heaped green and gleaming, free of their husks and ready to be transformed into tasty salsas. There is a professional nopalero – the man who quickly and efficiently removes every thorn from your nopales –those crisp, green cactus paddles packed with good nutrition and essential to traditional Mexican cooking.
The most widely used dried peppers – ancho, guajillo and sometimes pasilla – are heaped in fragrant bins for bulk purchase, as are Mexican cinnamon, canela, and the ubiquitous dried red hibiscus flower which is steeped as a tea and served as a cold drink, agua fresca de jamaica.
The guys who work in this department know me. I often express my appreciation for their good work in keeping everything so fresh and perfect. They are a wealth of information about the produce, and are even happy to share recipes gleaned from their mothers and grandmothers.
Ah, but I promised lions and tigers! As I have said, Soriana is the big anchor of our spanking new Sendero mall. I received a mailer this morning that says starting the 4th of February they will be hosting a special circus from Miami – so it looks like I can make good on that promise. If you haven’t attended a circus with zillions of happy Mexican kids and six or eight Bengal tigers, you really haven’t lived!
Meet you in the produce aisle…
Cooks who will soon arrive from the frozen reaches of Canada recently asked which traditional Mexican panadería I would recommend. The first answer that popped into my mind was Soriana, part of a Monterrey-based supermarket chain and the main anchor of Sendero, our spanking new mall geared toward the local population. I invite you to read prior entries about Chef Oropeza’s visit and the Taco Inn located in the food court to give you an idea of Sendero’s expansive public spaces.
Let’s begin with sweet breads, pan dulce. The most widely known are conchas, those iconic yeasty Mexican breakfast rolls made with lots of eggs but low in fat so they tend to dry out. Luckily there are many ways to bring them back to their full glory — one is to sprinkle or brush them with milk and run them in a hot oven for a few minutes. Another is simply to split and toast them; they’re wonderful with butter and jam, and of course a cup of hot coffee or Mexican chocolate. It’s not traditional, but I also find they make wonderful French toast!
The distinctive shell pattern atop conchas is made of flour, sugar, butter and, for dark toppings, cocoa powder and/or cinnamon, all rubbed together to form an edible Play-Dough mass. This is divided into balls, flattened into a circle to fit the top of the bun before rising… then a specialized metal cutter is pressed over the topping to form the characteristic spiral pattern. If you don’t have a cutter you can trace your own pattern with a knife.
Here is a beautiful display of pastel de tres leches (super moist cake made with “three milks”) ready to be sold by the piece — backed with a colorful tower of everyone’s favorite accompaniment, Mexican hot chocolate!
The panadería is also the place to buy fresh bolillos, the ubiquitous crusty French-type roll, and teleras, flattened rolls perfect for stuffing with layered ingredients and toasted panini fashion to create a torta, the renowned Mexican sandwich.
A typical Mexican panadería is a visual fiesta! I hope this gives you some idea of the expansive variety and colorful display; even a chain supermaket like Soriana retains the feel of traditional markets, knowing this will inspire shoppers to take home and enjoy their favorite comfort foods.