Casa de Colores School of Traditional Mexican Cooking

A Unique Culinary Adventure in Cabo

Archive for alternative activities in Cabo

No More Classes Until October 15!!

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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

COOKING UP A STORM: LIFE AFTER ODILE

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A warm, dry greeting to all from Mexico City!

In the wee hours of September 15th our beloved Cabo community sat peacefully within the eye of a monster–the most intense hurricane to make landfall on Baja Sur during the satellite era.  The calm was not to last, as Odile hammered away at the southern tip of Baja accompanied by repeated shaking from quakes centered around San Felipe in Baja Norte registering from 4 to 5.2.  Odile even spawned tornadoes I am told by friends who were there, hanging on for dear life as a real live monster created storms within storms…

A true tale of horror!  I was spared the full trauma of the event as I breathlessly watched Odile’s progress through the window of my computer, high and dry with Manuel in Mexico City.  It would be days before I knew the extent of the damage to Baja Sur, and to my beautiful kitchen.

I lost my second story roof to pressures equal to those of Florida’s Hurricane Andrew.  I count myself lucky, because many hard working locals lost everything they own to what has been called the Odile Ordeal.  Lots of concerned cooks who have adopted Cabo as their own community have contacted me to find out how I am, how Cabo is, and how they might help.  There are many ways to support a disaster area, but I would say that without a doubt the most important thing people can do is to COME ON DOWN!  Visit Cabo, and you are helping to rebuild in the most direct way possible.

Will I be cooking?  You bet!  My first scheduled class, appropriately making Comfort Foods, will take place on October 17th.  Luckily I have a spare beautiful kitchen, and my plan is to keep on cooking downstairs as repairs go on overhead.  Considering the quality of the people who support me I don’t think it will be long before we are all cooking in my new and improved kitchen upstairs!

Manuel and I have had wonderful adventures this summer visiting more of Mexico’s magical towns and cities.  We spent a couple of weeks in Michoacán, which I have always been told is Mexico’s most beautiful state.  It is indeed a very special place–the capital city of Morelia is a city of stone, perfectly proportioned architectural gems from the 16th century onward in all directions as far as the eye can see, centered around the fabulous iconic cathedral with its twin 70m towers…  And the Lake Patzcuaro area of Day of the Dead fame is even more amazing than we had expected.  I will reluctantly leave our travels to Michoacán, Puebla, Oaxaca, Tlaxcala and the Federal District for future articles, though I am posting like crazy on Trip Advisor to help travelers find their way to these incredible destinations.

My warmest greetings and deepest thanks to all of you who have been in touch.  Your communication has meant more to me than words can express, and I look forward to this season of cooking with you all like never before!  All reports from Cabo indicate that things have come together in record time to prepare for your visit.  Manuel and I will be home on Sunday, lugging lots of wonderful freshly dried chiles and other goodies, ready to cook up a storm… in a good way, of course!

Special credit to Manuel for today’s photo.  Nice shot!

¡Buen provecho!

Donna

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

COMIDA CORRIDA – Cheap Eats with Deep Roots

I’ve been a baaaad blogger!  I have a bunch of cheap excuses–last season was crazily, gloriously busy!  I have acquired a new computer and new camera and because I was in the kitchen all the time I never figured out how to work them properly!  I just got back from 9 weeks in south central Mexico…  The bottom line is, it’s been a while since I have posted a proper article.

I am making use of WordPress’ amazing technology to repost this article on Mexico’s Comida Corrida not just because I haven’t put together a new article (which admittedly I haven’t) but also because I am putting together a new class entitled, rather pithily I think, COMIDA CORRIDA!  In my travels through southern Mexico this summer I was again bowled over by the availability, price and quality of this amazing culinary phenomenon.  Here’s your homework–read up prior to taking the class this season!  As ever, BUEN PROVECHO!

The gastronomic phenomenon of an inexpensive, three course, fixed price meal comes alive during the afternoon lunch hours at every “fonda” and “cocina económica” in Mexico.  This wonderful Mexican gastronomic phenomenon, the Comida Corrida, is named for the “Tres Tiempos”, the Three Parts, of a bullfight, the legendary Corrida de Toros.

These small restaurants are attended by women who own them, presiding over kitchens throughout the country with a motherly homestyle feel, feeding a nation well and very affordably every working day.  Men generally stick to more manly cheap eats like tacos and carnitas, leaving lunch to the ladies.

The Three Parts have been set in stone over the generations:  First:  The “entrada caldosa”, a brothy dish like a pasta soup or consomme.  Second:  The “plato seco”, or dry dish of rice or spaghetti, or a vegetable salad.  Third:  The “plato fuerte”, or main dish, typically featuring three or four options of Mexican homestyle dishes like beef tips in red chile sauce, pork or chicken in mole, fried or grilled fish, and perhaps a vegetarian offering like tortitas de papa, crispy potato cheese cakes served in a red sauce, particularly during Lent.  An “agua fresca”, fresh water drink made with fruit, flowers or rice will be served, but dessert is not typically included and would be considered a courtesy of the house rather than a part of the comida corrida.

My guy Manuel is back in Mexico City, where he frequently takes his main meal in fondas near his home.  He sent me this story, which he wrote for me as a birthday present the other day. This is my translation:

LA COMIDA CORRIDA.
On Saturday I went back to “Fonda Mary” for a comida corrida.  The day was chilly, and when I stepped inside the fonda was empty, which I presumed was due to the cold, but as I ate people began to arrive and the place filled up as it always does.

The comida corrida consists of three dishes–I ordered vegetable soup, adding fresh cilantro, chopped white onion, chile and lime for extra flavor.  Then I asked for rice and beans, and as a main dish I had the almendrado, a simple mole with almonds and chile cooked with pork, mopping it up with eight hot tortillas and washing it all down with agua fresca.  It was so tasty that I raised my glass to my lady in celebration of her birthday back in Cabo!

The almendrado was homemade and very tasty, and I got to wondering what part of the southern Republic Mary might be from.  Today when I went back for the comida corrida the first thing I did was ask her where she learned to cook.  It turns out she’s from Progreso National, born right here in Mexico City!  So again today I had the pasta soup, then spaghetti with cream and cheese, and finally a pipian–the famous green mole based on pumpkin seeds cooked with pork and beans, and it was delicious as always!

A worker or campesino who does hard work can eat a good comida corrida and leave well satisfied and ready to continue his work.  The same goes for a housewife with children, and for students who don’t want to live on junk food.  Professionals are just as likely to be found at fondas, eating well and saving money on Mexico’s national treasure, the comida corrida.

This Saturday I will celebrate 60 years of eating at great fondas like Mary’s–with yet another comida corrida!

Saludos a todos,

Manuel

OLD FRIEND, NEW PARTNER, HOT TOUR!

I started the Breakfast and Marketing Tour over the summer as a kind of joke.  I never thought so many people would be willing to get out in the volcano heat of Cabo’s hurricane season in search of traditional Mexico and Mexican foods!  Unlikely as it seems, it was hot hot hot — and that’s no joke!  So much so, in fact, that once I was able to get back in the kitchen lots of people wanted to do both the Tour AND a cooking class! 

Enthusiastic and energetic as I am when it comes to Mexican food, I cannot do it all!  The solution is a perfect one.  My Mexican cuisine and culture guru, Claudia Velo, has taken over this part of the Casa de Colores program.  With no further ado, I’d like her to introduce herself.  I hope you’ll get a chance to meet her in person on a Cabo visit.  She’ll give you an unforgettable, truly  Mexican experience.

Muchos saludos,

Donna

When Donna asked me to help her with the Breakfast and Marketing Tour in Cabo my heart did a triple somersault of joy because this means the universe, through my wonderful friend Donna, is giving me yet another chance to share my passion for Mexican culture and cuisine with the wonderful, adventurous people who choose to explore beyond the obvious sand-and-sun beauty of Mexico.

And so… here is my official introduction to all of you foodies that follow Donna on her culinary adventures at Casa De Colores.

I was born and raised in Mexico City, and my whole life I have had an intense love affair with Mexican traditions and cuisine which was intensified all the more when I spent time abroad and found out how precious our traditions truly are, how complex our culinary landscape really is, and how it has related to other cultures through centuries of history and exchanges from the merely commercial to the profoundly passionate.  Remind me to tell you in another participation in this blog about how the China Poblana costume was created, and I think you’ll understand what I mean. 

I believe my love affair with Mexican traditions began in my childhood when I spent endless hours at the National Museum of Anthropology and History in Mexico City where my mom worked as curator of the ethno-history exhibits.  Instead of reading fairy tales, I read about Mexico’s history and legends, and later on when I ventured into the hospitality industry in Puerto Vallarta I realized how I loved to share this knowledge with visitors who are interested in Mexico.  At that time I contributed cultural content about Mexican traditions to several tourist guides such as Frommer’s, Berlitz and Mexico’s Beach Resorts for Dummies.

When I had the chance to design and open the Cultural Center at the Four Seasons in Punta Mita I began to fully realize how fulfilling it was to share little known facts about origins and reasons behind Mexico’s traditions with visitors from near and far. 

Now, I am excited beyond words at the opportunity to share with you the wonderful culinary wealth of Mexico that has become available in Los Cabos thanks to a fortunate and rare set of circumstances…  so come and let’s explore the marvels of Mexico’s cuisine in places off the beaten path and stroll aisles filled with traditional Mexican products…  I guarantee you will have a wonderful experience and learn how to use many ingredients that I bet you had no idea what to make of before.

See you in Cabo!

Claudia

PIBIL MADNESS

It must be Fall.  I’ve been getting steady requests to do Lunch in Yucatan, featuring a modern version of the ancient Mayan classic, Pollo Pibil–and I find myself awaiting each of these occasions with my salivary glands in high gear!  Somehow, as the weather cools and the season turns over a new leaf, nothing comforts like a big, overstuffed Mayan pit-style, habanero-and-achiote spiced pulled chicken sanwich scattered with day-glo pink pickled onions…

In Yucatan, Mayans still dig pits in their yards to roast whole pigs or chickens to sell along the roadside for a spicy, smoky Sunday breakfast treat.  However, this is something we can easily create at home after a foray into a good Hispanic or Oriental market for a couple of basic ingredients–namely achiote paste made from rock-hard brick red annatto seeds ground with spices, and fresh banana leaves.  If you’re lucky enough to find (or grow) fresh epazote, be sure to pick up a bunch of that, too.

Back at the ranch, prepare the marinade for your pibil by tossing into your trusty blender 4 tablespoons of achiote paste with 1/2 c. fresh orange juice and 1/4 c. fresh lime juice, plus a splash of white vinegar for good measure.  Add a clove or two of fresh garlic,  about a half dozen whole allspice berries and 1 tsp. sea salt and whiz away to create your beautiful brick red marinade. 

Pour this fragrant sauce over about 4 lbs. of bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts or boneless pork leg, deeply scored, and allow the meat to marinate for several hours or overnight.

Get a good roasting pan with a lid, preferably pottery or stoneware, and line it with the fresh banana leaves.  Place the marinated meat lovingly in your substitute pit, pouring extra sauce over the meat.  Slice up an entire large white onion and three or four red ripe Roma tomatoes onto the meat, adding a large sprig of fresh epazote (dried will do in a pinch), and tuck in two or three fresh, bright orange habanero chiles.  Don’t worry–if you don’t open them they won’t add too much heat!

Cover your pibil with fresh banana leaves, tuck it in nicely and cover tightly.  Bake it for an hour or so in a 350 oven until the meat is tender, then remove it from the oven, shred the meat into the juice and remove the banana leaves.  Correct the seasoning–I usually wind up mashing and adding the habaneros to bring up the spice level–and put the whole shebang on a burner and continue cooking until the meat is very tender and most of the sauce has been absorbed…  Torta time!!

Ah, but I digress… you will of course have prepared a jar of southern Mexico’s famous day-glo pink pickled onions, ubiquitous throughout the south on every table.  Simply slice a dark red onion in half, then slice as thin or thick as you like.  Pour boiling water over it briefly to wilt and cut the heat, then pack in a glass jar, adding white vinegar to fill the jar halfway, plus a teaspoon of sea salt.  Tuck a flame-blackened habanero in the jar, and turn it over every time you open the fridge for a day and voila!  Day-glo pink pickled onions for your tacos or tortas!

If you have access to a Mexican bakery you’ll need a good telera, a French style flat roll perfect for making this sandwich.  Otherwise, get the best your area has available.  Pile on the pibil, scatter with vinegary onions and dive in!

PERFECT party food!  I hope you make up a big pib-full and enjoy with your foodie friends this holiday season. 

¡Provecho!

Donna

Time Travel in Tlaxcala

As I attempt to describe the things I have seen in the pre-Hispanic market in Tlaxcala to people who come to cook in my kitchen, my mind spirals back a thousand years when women sat in the same spot selling the same tamales made from huge fresh lake fish stuffed with tiny lake fish, wrapped in mixiote–the inner membrane of the maguey cactus leaf–the whole package tossed into hot coals until the fish is tender and the mixiote blackened and crisp…

A thousand years ago the maguey cactus was one of the most sacred and important plants in pre-Hispanic Mexico, and pulque–or octli–was a precious, milky, viscous alcoholic ritual drink reserved for special people on special occasions.

After Mexico’s independence from Spain, pulque’s production–and consumption–exploded, particularly in the states of Hidalgo and Tlaxcala, which produced a pulque aristocracy, and even in the 50s up to half the revenue of both of these states was produced by pulque.

In the early 1900s there were at least a thousand pulquerias in Mexico City alone, and many were elegant places characterized by quirky names like “Memories of the Future”, and “I’m Waiting for you Here at the Corner.”  Diego Rivera declared the finest of Mexican art to be displayed on the facades and interior walls of Mexico’s pulquerias.

There are still some of the old pulquerias in Mexico City with sawdust on the floors, where patrons will spill a bit of pulque on the floor as an offering to Mother Earth in the time honored way.  Pulque is traditionally served from large barrels kept on ice, dispensed into glass mugs using a calabash gourd cut in half called a “jicara”, and of course the bartender is called a “jicarero”.

Tlaxcala has organized a two day tour through the old pulque haciendas known as the Pulque Route.  I dream of taking it, and once again traveling back through time the next time I’m visiting Manuel in his Tlaxcala home! 

Muchos saludos,

Donna