Casa de Colores School of Traditional Mexican Cooking

A Unique Culinary Adventure in Cabo

Archive for Classes

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

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COOKING IN CABO IN AUGUST AND SEPTEMBER–BEAT THE STREETS FOR TREATS IN THE HEAT!!!?

Hola, all!

The answer to this burning question is a resounding YES!  I am amazed at the response to the August culinary tour I designed to allow us to continue to take in Cabo’s traditional Mexican  food scene without losing our cool…  and now I’m hearing from truly intrepid travelers who venture to Cabo at the height of hurricane season–hey, if you’re crazy enough, count me in! 

 Here’s the deal:

I am offering a special culinary tour, Breakfast and Marketing in Mexico, to take in Cabo’s burgeoning traditional Mexican food inlets and outlets.  This four hour experience, 9am to 1pm, will take you off the beaten path and into the heart of Mexico.  

We fortify ourselves for our shopping expedition with a discussion of Mexican foods over breakfast Mexican-stye at a popular cafe where everything is made fresh daily in a spotless kitchen.  Then we walk through air-conditioned markets reviewing basic ingredients including breads, meats, cheeses, chiles, fruits, vegetables and herbs. 
 
We wind up our day with an antojito and a cold drink at a true artesanal tortillera, where masa is made the way it has been for a thousand years (increasingly rare even on the mainland of Mexico), watching women making classic corn masa antojitos like quesadillas de comal, sopes and gorditas with freshly made mouth-watering fillings, served up with hand made salsas and fresh nopal (cactus paddle) salad!   You can use what you’ve learned to prepare foods you sample during our day together and other traditional dishes using recipes you take home from our tour to share with friends and family. 
 
 Interested?  Let’s do it!  I’m all fired up!
 
Have a great summer wherever you are… and stay cool!
 
Muchos saludos,
Donna

CULINARY ART IN BAJA

Next time you’re driving down Baja, try to hit Ensenada on a Sunday and stop in at Marcelo Castro’s recent addition to Baja’s quiet gourmet food and drink revolution.  Take the short drive 40 miles east of Ensenada on federal highway 3 to Ojos Negros to see what it’s all about.

Now, in addition to incomparable seafood, fantastic organic produce, olive oil and wines all made possible by sea breezes which create a very special micro climate perfect for all these culinary treasures, Marcelo Castro has installed America’s first stone cave for aging artesanal cheeses the way it’s been done for generations in Europe.

It makes sense.  Marcelo is a fourth generation artesanal cheese producer, following in the footsteps of his Swiss-Italian grandfather who brought the family tradition to Baja, making cheeses for American and Mexican cowboys in the valley historically known as Valle de San Rafael.  The family business expanded to include the Ensenada-Tecate-Tijuana triangle, then the entire country of Mexico.

Marcelo’s ambitious project allows him to turn out 400 kilos of exquisite artesanal cheeses daily, and the stone cave has a capacity for 10,000 pieces at the perfect humidity and light exposure for European quality cheeses.

Artesanal doesn’t just encompass cheese production, either.  Marcelo’s grows and feeds their own livestock, milks the cows and takes it from there!  And yes, you can drop in on Sundays for a tour that allows you to see just how it’s being done, and to sample the fare, including the Valley’s famous wines.  Google Cava de Marcelo for more information. 

It’s an exciting time for foodies in Baja!  Come for lunch…

!Provecho!

Donna

Cooking in August

Only the most intrepid traveler comes to Cabo in August.  However, I’m receiving steady requests from cooks whose enthusiasm for Mexican cooking is obviously unaffected by the heat… so here’s the deal:
 
I shut down my kitchen during the time of volcano heat beginning in August, starting up again when the heat dies down in mid-October.  However, I have received several requests in August from people who really want a taste of traditional Mexican cooking, so I would like to offer a cook’s tour of Breakfast and Marketing in Mexico to show off Cabo’s recently blossoming traditional food producers and purveyors.
 
Starting at 8:30 with breakfast at a great local comedor, we continue with a visit to an artesanal tortilleria where they make fresh nixtamal daily even in our hottest weather, the way it’s been done for a thousand years.  After another stop or two (we now have an authentic Tlaxcala bakery, unbelievable!) we wind up at one of our major Mexican markets (air conditioned, of course–see my entry on Traditional Mexican Panaderia below) with a walk-through introduction to Mexican cheeses, pan dulce, meats, herbs, spices and chiles, fresh and dried, including suggestions for use and recipes to take home.  The tour winds up at 12:30, and you’re home in time for a nice siesta before hitting the beach when the heat subsides in the afternoon…
 
The plan is to eat and shop our way through Cabo’s developing traditional food scene while keeping our cool.  If this interests you, let me know.  I hope to meet you when you come down, and share my passion for Mexican food!
 
Muchos saludos,
Donna

¡VIVA EL FLAN!

Hello, and happy Spring!

Today I’m inspired to talk about Mexico’s creamy classic dessert, flan…

Some have never eaten flan, and others have fallen on funky flan!  Fortunate diners have had the full on flan experience, which rivals good cheesecake as a dessert classic and can run the gamut from basic vanilla to baroque chocoflan to suit the most demanding dessert-o-holic’s palate — but have no idea how to create the flan fantasy for themselves.

Similar to creme brulee, flan’s caramel sauce is baked on the bottom to be inverted and served as a liquid topping that requires a serving platter with a lip to contain every golden drop. 

I’ve never had a flan fail to flip.  This is because the custard floats on its base of liquid caramel, and all it takes to release it from its mold is to run a sharp knife around the sides, once it has been thoroughly chilled.  Simply place your platter over the mold, and FLIP!  Fabulous flan!

It’s all technique.  Melting the sugar for the caramel topping is simple.  Get a heavy skillet, place over medium heat, add 3/4 c. sugar and let it stand until you can see the sugar clearly melting; the top sugar layer will be floating on melted caramel.  At this point stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar is mostly melted; turn off the heat and continue to stir until completely melted and golden.

Have a mold ready to receive the caramel.  I use a glass souffle baker, which I preheat with some boiling water, drying it well just before pouring in the melted sugar.  IMMEDIATELY tilt the mold around to coat the bottom and 1/2-1″ up the sides with caramel, working quickly as it sets up fast.  Set aside to cool until you can place your hand on the sugar to avoid scrambling the eggs in your custard.

You need a water bath to bake the custard; eggs are delicate and really need this insulation from the oven’s heat.  Find a baking dish that will hold the mold with room to spare.  Measure the water by placing the mold in the baking dish and adding water to about custard-level.  Remove the mold and heat the measured water almost to boiling.  Preheat your oven to 325.

The custard is a simple thing.  Pour a 14 oz. can of Eagle Brand sweeteened condensed milk (La Lechera in Mexico) into your blender jar.  Using the same can, measure milk, half and half or cream (depending on how rich you want your flan) and add it to the blender.  Break four large eggs in with the milk and voila!  Basic flan!  Add flavoring of your choice — good quality vanilla, coffee powder dissolved in hot water, Bailey’s, Kahlua, orange zest, a can-full of fresh corn kernels… only your imagination limits your choices.

WHIZZZ the custard thoroughly and pour into your cooled, caramel lined mold.  Place the baking dish with hot water in the oven, carefully add the flan in its mold and bake for an hour. 

Now the tricky part.  Is it done?

The flan should be puffed and a beautiful golden brown.  If this is not the case, let it bake another 10-15 minutes and check again.  Puffed and brown?  Great!  Now give it the Jiggle Test.  Pay no attention to recipes suggesting that a knife inserted off center will come away clean.  By that point your flan is WAAAY overdone! 

Give it a judicious jiggle.  If it has a liquid sort of jiggle, like an old-style water bed, let it bake another 5 and try again.  It should have a happy little jello-type jiggle… in which case it’s done!  Take it straight out of the oven, and out of the water bath to cool completely before chilling at least 3 hours prior to flipping.

¡Fabuloso!  You’ve mastered the perfect flan!  There it sits in its pond of golden caramel awaiting your pleasure.  You can, of course, serve it just as-is as a finale to even the most elegant meal.  OR… you can certainly gild the lily, adding fresh berries or sliced peaches and a final drizzle of cream before serving, or go completely crazy and pipe whipped cream rosettes and drizzle with hot fudge sauce…

In the end, what you do with your flan in your own home between consenting adults is really up to you.

¡Buen provecho!

Donna

GREEN CORN

I know I have gone on and on about how happy I am to have Mexican products available to us here in Cabo.  It seems incredible that only a short few years ago we were limited in our selection, and now we are surrounded by such abundance, all with the Mexican cook in mind!

Epazote, arguably the most Mexican of all culinary herbs, has become a regular staple at our big box stores as they try to outdo each other vying for popularity with Cabo’s Mexican population, which suddenly outnumbers foreign residents and locals combined! 

Black beans would not be black beans without epazote in central and southern Mexico.  It is also used with wild abandon in quesadillas de comal, chopped with fresh corn, in soups and stews, and also as an herbal remedy reputed to be an antiflatuent and vermifuge.  It is a pungent, slightly bitter herb that is fairly easy to grow, although it tends to dry out in our Baja hot season.  I really love having epazote readily available at the markets, along with a wide selection of other fresh herbs like chamomile for tea; mint, which is used in a variety of Mexican dishes as well as a refreshing tea; laurel (Bay); thyme; basil and sage.

We can also get fresh banana leaves for tamales, a really good selection of fresh and dried chiles, and virtually all the competitive markets have a full-time nopalero, a man who stands whisking the spines from prickly pear cactus paddles–nopales–with a super sharp knife, trimming the edges so each paddle is perfect, ready for the kitchen!

What do do with nopales?  Here’s a great tip:  drizzle them with a little olive oil, sprinkle them with salt and grill them briefly on each side (you can do this in a hot skillet as well), then use them as a beautiful bright green base for pork in a mole sauce, chicken in chipotle… whatever your imagination can cook up!  Serve with a side of rice and wow!  Healthy, light and absolutely delicious.  They taste a bit like green beans with lime juice, really fresh and tasty.

Ah, but I digress!  I was going to talk about green corn.  Recently huge shipments of fresh corn have been arriving in our major markets, and by the truckload to be sold on street corners and in the big arroyo where fresh produce appears out of nowhere when it comes in season.  The markets use it as a come-on to attract the coveted market of Mexican cooks who mob the place with the cheapest price, using elbows and shopping carts to jockey for the best position as they load up on this most cherished of all Mexican ingredients.

This is a mystery to the foreign palate… these are not ears of sweet corn like those you would find in California, literally bursting with sugar and needing only a brief cooking to be at their tender best.  These are tough, starchy ears of field corn that foreigners find inedible!  What possible use could you find for these tough customers?

I was in the melee, sharpening my elbows to get my share, and I took the opportunity to ask people around me what they planned to do with the bounty.  The answer?  TAMALES!  Fresh corn tamales must contain a lot of starch, or they will never set up.  TORTA DE ELOTE!  Mexican gastronomy contains few desserts, but fresh corn makes a delightful, moist cake popular with the whole family.  ATOLE!   This thick beverage, like a thin pudding, is so nourishing when made with fresh corn kernels. 

Me?  I was going to make a batch of Uchepos, Michoacan’s fresh corn tamales, delicate little morsels served right on the fresh steamed corn leaf with queso fresco and a dollop of cream. 

And so the answer was the same from all of us as we clamored for our corn:  COMFORT FOOD! 

Muchos saludos a todos,

Donna

High praise indeed!

Why I give Donna Somerlott and Casa de Colores the highest recommendation…By Barbara Levinson

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.  https://casadecolores.wordpress.com/