Casa de Colores School of Traditional Mexican Cooking

A Unique Culinary Adventure in Cabo

Archive for cooking classes 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

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ALL ABOUT SALSA!

Greetings from south of the border!  Today I’m going to attempt the impossible–a semi-comprehensive article summing up the Mexican salsa experience.  It’s tough because the subject is pretty broad, there being an ideal sauce for virtually every dish in every region of Mexican cooking.  Salsas, moles, pipianes and adobos are the highest, most indisputable privilege of this vibrant, resonant, complex and amazingly varied World Heritage cuisine.

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Salsas have always held an important place on the Mexican table by ancient prehispanic custom.  A diner may preview coming attractions by scooping up a bit of raw or cooked salsa with a warm tortilla, crisp tortilla chip or piece of bread as a simple appetizer, and salsas will enhance and adorn antojitos, rice dishes, soups, salads and cooked dishes, adding rich dimensions of flavor, texture and heat.

In prehispanic Mexico mulli (now know as mole) meant sauce, as does the Spanish word salsa.  Over hundreds of years moles have come to include not only relatively simple sauces but an astoundingly baroque collection of fine sauces which may be served on steamed vegetables, poultry, pork and even beef, these versions generally being considered fiesta food.  Unfortunately mole is widely misinterpreted, many people believing it to be a bad chocolate sauce.  A mole may or may not include chocolate to balance its finely tuned flavors, but at no time should it ever taste like Hershey’s!  A mole might be light, fresh and herbal, and take under a hour to prepare, but it will warrant five stars… that’s mole.  If you have the opportunity to try one, ask for a sample.  If you love it, you’re in for a big treat, and if not–you’ve dodged that culinary bullet.  A mole is only as good as the cook.

The pipianes are fairly thick, textured salsas based on toasted pumpkin seeds and other nuts and seeds, giving them a rustic texture and nutty, creamy flavor.  They may be served thick to enrobe meats or vegetables, or may be thinned with flavorful stock and served as a festive soup.  Pipian may be red or green, depending on whether red tomatoes or green tomatillos are used as a base.

There are myriad recipes and techniques used in the preparation of these magical sauces which are the heart and soul of traditional Mexican cooking.  I would like to include a highly simplified run-down, the steps of salsa as I present them to cooks in my my kitchen.

Simply chop or dice fresh, ripe Roma tomatoes, white onion, and serrano chile, fold them together, season with sea salt to taste and add freshly chopped cilantro, if desired, at the moment it is served and you have a fresh Salsa Mexicana or Salsa Cruda.  Add chopped or diced red radish and some peeled, seeded diced cucumber and voila!  You have Pico de GalloThe original Pico de Gallo from Jalisco is made with equal proportions of peeled, diced jicama and peeled, diced sweet orange sections, sprinkled with toasted, ground dried chile.  These delicate raw salsas, which are actually fresh relishes, salads or raw chutneys, are good for one day only.

Char red Roma tomatoes or green tomatillos, a slice of white onion, a few cloves of garlic and a few serrano chiles on a hot, dry comal until everything chars, softens and sweetens.  Grind in a stone molcajete or, as modern cooks do, in the good old Osterizer.  If you use a blender, pulse and leave plenty of texture to mimic a salsa ground in a stone or earth bowl, season with sea salt to taste and you have what are known as salsas de molcajete, with their light, fresh, semi-cooked flavor and texture.

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If you puree your molcajete salsa (or the same ingredients raw, or simmered briefly in hot water until softened), you may then use a technique called “frying” a salsa.  Heat a splash of oil in a deep soup pot, pour your red or green salsa directly onto the hot oil (be careful as it will splatter!) and “fry” until the head of foam that initially rises has fallen and the bubble are popping thick, about ten minutes.  This thickened, “fried” version will have the lovely texture, concentrated flavor and color of a marinara. The red version makes a wonderful Salsa Ranchera.

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The next step would be to add a dried chile, or combination of dried chiles, to your red or green salsa.  Toast your chosen chiles on a dry comal to maximize flavors, soak in boiling water to soften and add to instantly create a completely different salsa such as Salsa de Chile Ancho, Chile Guajillo, or Chile Pasilla (from left to right, below). 

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Any of these salsas may be used in any number of dishes with widely varying and always delicious results.  Although it is impossible to present a full discussion of salsas in such little time and space, I hope this gets you in the kitchen COOKING MEXICAN!

!Buen 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

A LETTER FROM HOME

¡Hola a todos!

It’s been far too long since I’ve gotten an article up.  At the risk of cheating I want to post this great letter I received some time back from cooks who spend time every year in Cabo, who have access to a kitchen and continue to cook even though they’re technically on vacation.  My people!!

 comalHello Donna:
Just a note to thank you once again for the wonderful afternoon cooking in your home on November 22.  We did a little shopping after class, and collected a few more ingredients.  I was up early the following morning, toasting tomatoes, garlic, onions and peppers on our “comal” (a teflon skillet), grinding in our blender, then “frying” the resulting mixture to create our own version of Huevos Rancheros, which we served with the tortillas we bought with you–MMMMM!  We also stopped at Artesanos later in the week, and I found a molcajete (I checked as you said, to determine that it was really made of stone).  We seasoned it with many batches of guacamole during our remaining days in Cabo.  During the course of or stay, we managed to accumulate little bits of leftovers to add to those you sent home.  One of our last meals was a rendition of the soup we made, including the leftover broth, some rotisserie chicken (and broth made from that chicken), various odd veggies and some saffron rice.  We licked our bowls clean!

Did you know that you cannot bring a molcajete in your carry-on luggage???  That was our original plan–not wanting to pack it in a suitcase with a couple of bottles of tequila–but a sign at the airport listed the implement right along with guns, knives, baseball bats and more than 3 oz. liquid!.  We had to do a quick re-arrange of the luggage contents before we could check the bag.  I’m happy to report that it molcajete made it home intact, as did the tequila!

We all concluded that attending your class was one of the highlights of our trip.  I got some good ideas for use in my own classes during the upcoming winter, not only recipes, but techniques for building flavor.  I really appreciated the background information you shared about the Mexican food culture–a key to understanding any community, I believe.BusyHere’s hoping that our paths will cross again in Cabo–and don’t forget to include the Twin Cities on your book tour!
Thanks again,
Judy
 

La Cumbia del Mole

I am re-posting this entry because I have a recent run on classes making mole!  DO check out this amazing video that accompanies Lila Downs singing La Cumbia del Mole.

 
ROASTING AND PEELING POBLANOS FOR BICENTENNIAL CHILES EN NOGADA…

This entry is inspired by a recent visit from Manuel, a friend born in the Lower Mixtec region of Oaxaca who brought abundant blessings in the form of music and traditional Mexican foods.  In his home town a very few women still make a corn masa journey bread which dates back hundreds of years, called “totopos” although they are nothing like the corn chips we all know and love for snacking.  These totopos were carried by mule drivers on long trips along with dried meats and a dried salsa which could all be reconstituted with water, lightweight and hearty fare for the trail.  Manuel somehow got hold of some totopos, and brought them along to share.  I hope someday to get to the Lower Mixtec to find out just how they are made, before this wonderful ancient culinary tradition dies out.

He also brought along a couple of liters of real vanilla, labeled with the name of the Vargas family who produces it in Papantla, Veracruz where vanilla orchids are grown, based in Carrousel 22 of the Papantla market.  I compared it with the junk they sell here, which smells like an industrial cleaning product next to the real thing, which smells just like the flowers from which it is made.  In Tlaxcala it went for $20 pesos per 3/4 liter.

I would like to share a very special song by the amazing Lila Downs, born in 1968 in Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca not far from Manuel’s home town, the daughter of a Mixtec cabaret singer and an American cinematographer and art professor from Minnesota.  She is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, having grown up between Oaxaca and the USA, and she performs her own compositions which fuse with native Mixtec, Zapotec, Maya and Nahuatl musical culture.  If you are unfamiliar with her music, much of it appears on YouTube.  I highly recommend you search for and listen to the version of La Cumbia del Mole called “La Cumbia del Mole Video Mix” on YouTube, which presents Lila’s hypnotic lyrics with a cumbia beat — cumbia being a Columbian Caribbean rhythm originating from African slave courtship dances… along with stunning images of Oaxaca, mole ingredients and preparation.  YUMMY!

With love and many thanks to Manuel, here is my translation of her lyrics.  I hope you visit Lila Downs at YouTube and sing along.  ¡Buen provecho!

La Cumbia del Mole, Lila Downs

It is said that in Oaxaca they drink mezcal with coffee

They say that herbs cure bad faith

I love the mole that Soledad is going to grind up for me

My dear Soledad is going to cook up a wonderful mole

From the heavens of Monte Alban, at night I dream of you

It’s made of ground peanuts, the bread is ground as well,

Dried almonds are ground with chile and also salt

That chocolate is ground with cinnamon

Pepper and cloves, moving the mole grinder

They say that in Oaxaca chocolate is made with water

They say in the festival of the little bulls it must burn

For the one who orders the passion of Soledad…

SURREAL SUNDAY IN XOCHIMILCO

Mexico City is too much!

I know I’ll never see all the things I want to see in this sprawling megalopolis packed with life-loving Chilangos making the most of everything, every day.

Neither Manuel, who has lived in Mexico City for 40 years, nor I had been to the legendary floating gardens of Xochimilco.  We were both prepared to hate it, thinking it would be dirty, overrun and touristy…

We were surprised to find a surreal dream of a Sunday filled with impossibly colorful gondolas, trajineras, bumping sides as they were poled through miles of canals that are the remnants of Lake Texcoco where the ancient Aztecs created fertile gardens to grow their foods and flowers.

On weekends the canals become a floating fiesta with bars, restaurants and gangs of fully fledged mariachis all competing for business from their own colorful little boats.  It’s a riot of color and sound, an olfactory and auditory banquet you really must experience if you have the good fortune to find yourself in this magical city.

Hop aboard a trajinera, tie a floating bar up to one side and a group of musicians to the other and while away a truly surreal day in Xochimilco.  If all this isn’t enough, you can wander for hours through 24 hour fruit and flower markets, as Manuel and I did…

Xochimilco invites you to eat, drink and be merry!

¡Buen provecho!

Donna

TOTOPOS DE TEZOATLAN

MOST places on the planet, a totopo is the chip you dip in your salsa or guacamole.

In Tezoatlan, tucked away in the Lower Mixtec Mountains of northern Oaxaca, a totopo is something else altogether.

For generations this gigantic, paper thin bread made from freshly ground nixtamal (field corn prepared with slaked lime the way it’s been done for over a thousand years), fresh lard and a pinch of salt, was carried by mule drivers carrying goods to ranches and settlements that seldom made it to a town of any size to buy the basics.

They carried totopos, which look fragile, but are cooked to a point of flexibility that, when reheated on a comal or over an open fire, attain a perfect crisp, crunchy texture that is uniquely satisfying.  Along with dried salsas that could be rehydrated with a little water and dried meats made palatable by simmering in the same salsa, plus whatever greens and fresh meats that could be gathered along the trail, the hardy mule drivers ate pretty well without carrying a lot of extra weight.

Tezoatlan’s totopos are a local addiction, part of everyone’s daily diet in this magically beautiful village of the Lower Mixtec.  My guy Manuel was born and raised there, in the building where his father had an electric mill used to grind fresh nixtamal carried in by local women daily in five gallon buckets.  The mill had stone discs inside which had to be chiseled on a regular basis to make stone ground, whole grain masa for tortillas, tamales and other antojitos and, of course, for totopos.

DOÑA Filiberta is one of two women in Tezoatlan who are still making tototopos, although age and arthritis have slowed her down considerably.  Manuel (along with plenty of Tezoatlan’s townspeople, no doubt) has long been concerned about the future of their favorite oversized cracker… but we can all relax after our visit to her kitchen workshop in September when she assured us that her grandaughter is learning the trade and will be taking over this important work.

The photo at the top shows Doña Fili’s old fashioned, thin pottery comales (griddles) upon which her totopos (also shown) bake over a hardwood fire, just as they have always been.  The second shot features Doña Fili herself, with the stone metate still used to grind nixtamal.  She also has a small stone mill similar to the one Manuel’s father used in the family business, and she still remembers him fondly.  She says he was a kind man who always provided hot water for the women to wash their hands on brisk Mixtec mornings.

Mexico’s food traditions are the glue that hold its people together.  I hope you can take a trip someday to small town Oaxaca where you will see and taste exactly what I mean!

¡Buen provecho!

Donna