Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Baking-Chocolate all over the place!

Ganache filled Mocha Shortbread Cookies are one of the most decadent recipes I bake at Christmas. I make the dough and usually have plenty left to freeze for Valentine's day heart cookies.  This year I started the task as usual but decided to use a tiny star shaped cookie cutter instead of the round one from years past.  My trusty old Kitchen Aid mixer was ready for the task.  But was I?  Apparently not.  I sifted the dry ingredients together while the butter, sugar and vanilla were creaming away in KA's bowl. The liquid was added even though my husband drank the last drop of Kahlua so I had to sub Meyer's Rum.  No problem.  Next I started to add the dry ingredients to the bowl of creamed mixture in KA.  Why didn't I remember that I had a shield for the bowl??? I have every attachment Kitchen Aid made for this machine and I didn't think to get the shield out!
After the first cup was added there was little flurry of flour-cocoa powder but not bad.  I thought I could cover the mixer with a dish towel like I have done before. I added some more dry ingredients and while trying to get the towel in place the metal measuring cup I was using to scoop the dry ingredients with slipped out of my hand and into the bowl with the machine running. I tried to turn it off but instead turned it to the highest setting..... You can just imagine my kitchen as well as my person.  I looked like I just came down a chimney.  Breathing in cocoa and flour is not a good thing either. My main concern is that I may have broken my Kitchen Aid.  My husband helped me dislodge the bowl as it was quite stuck. We freed it, cleaned up the mess and continued on with the shield in place this time. KA worked perfectly. What I forgot is that I have the smaller version which doesn't hold more than 6 c. of flour. I was at the limit. When I thought the dough had come together I scooped some out and formed a disk to chill. I then find out that the bottom third was dry ingredients so I had to throw it all into a large bowl and work the first disk back into it until it came together.  What should have taken me 45 min. max took 2 hours.
Okay, the disks are resting in the refrig, I knocked out the Ganache filling now onto Rocky Road.
Not enough walnuts so I added pistachio nuts to make up the difference along with  milk chocolate and mini marshmallows. Turned out great and it is so easy! I got the recipe from Sunset Magazine a few years ago.

Rocky Road and Mocha Shorbreads..the rest were packed up and shipped out for Christmas gifts.

Mocha Shortbread Cookies filled with Ganache

1 1/2 c. cocoa powder
4 c. all purpose flour
       Sift together
1 lb. butter
1 T. vanilla
1 c. granulated sugar
       Cream together with an electric mixer
1T. instant espresso powder
1T. Kahlua
        Dissolve espresso powder in the Kahlua and add to creamed mixture.  Add dry ingredients a little at a time so they blend in. A bowl shield is recommended if using a stand mixture for easy pouring.
Scrape out the dough and cut into 3 portions, form into disks, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled.
Preheat oven to 375.  Roll out dough and cut with small cookie cutters.  I usually use 1"round but this year I used a 1" star.  Bake on parchment lined cookie sheets 7-8 min. depending on the size of the cookies.
Cool before filling.

4 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1/4 c. heavy cream
1 T. corn syrup

Chop chocolate and put into a food processor.  Heat cream to boiling.  Add to chocolate and process until smooth, add corn syrup.  Chill mixture.  Either pipe onto cookies if serving open faced or spread the filling onto one cookie  if making sandwiched cookies.   Makes about 6 doz. sandwiches.

These along with my other goodies were packed up and shipped far far away for Christmas gifts.
That was all she wrote for my Christmas baking this year.  My wish list, as usual, was much longer, pretty sugar cookies that I could decorate, Nut brittles, Crackle Cookies from Martha Stewart's "Holiday Cookies" and jam filled thumbprints would have been nice.  Maybe next year.
Merry Christmas to you all!!!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Baking-The Reality

Cookie baking is on the agenda.  The stupid pinched  nerve in my hip is really bugging me but I figured Oatmeal cookies two ways would be easy since I can't go Christmas shopping yet because I can't walk very far.  The "dream" cookie was one I found in one of Martha Stewart magazines. It was "Cookie of the Month".  I cut it out and have been wanting to try it.

"Oatmeal cookies with dried apricots and white chocolate"

3/4 c. A.P. flour
3/4 c. oatmeal
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 stick room temp. butter
1/8 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg
4 oz. white chocolate chips ( or chopped up from a block)
3/4 c. chopped dried apricots
        Preheat oven 350*
Combine flour, oatmeal and baking soda in a bowl.  Cream butter and sugars in a mixer until pale yellow. Add salt, vanilla and egg and beat 1 minute until thoroughly mixed in.  Add flour mixture a little at a time until combined. Stir in chocolate and apricots.  I missed the part where she said to cover and refrigerate until cold about 30 min.  I just dropped  heaping teaspoonfuls onto my cookie sheets and baked them for 10 min. until the edges were golden brown. To make them more holiday-ish I sprinkled them with green sugar sprinkles.
They were and are very tender with the tang of the apricots and super sweetness of white chocolate.
I got a little over 2 dozen. You could easily double the recipe and make them bigger using a tablespoon.

A word about cookie sheets.  I have three thin aluminum sheetpans. I keep them really clean so they are still shiny and don't need to be oiled or anything.  If I used my regular heavy duty sheetpans I would line them with parchment paper.

Dried Apricot and White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

Oatmeal cookie #2 was my basic off the Quaker Oatmeal box cookie with 1/2 c each dried cranberries, chocolate chips and chopped pecans added. Oh, I also add 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. clove and 1/4 tsp nutmeg to the dough.  This time I added 1/4 c. cognac for the liquid but they came out a little drier than when I use milk.  They were sprinkled with red sugar crystals.
Next is Chocolate O'Rama!!!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Baking-the Dreams and the Reality

Every year I dig out my Christmas baking file along with Martha Stewart's Holiday Cookies magazine which is filed near the baking file.  The recipes look soooo good. I have many tried and true that I HAVE to make for family and friends. What about the ones that I haven't tried yet?  The recipes and beauty pictures are waiting for me each year in my folder. Every year I make a list of what I will make, persimmon breads, sugar cookies cut out and frosted, chocolate truffle cookies filled with ganache, my special oatmeal cookies with cranberries instead of raisins, Millionaire's short bread, spiced nuts, peppermint bark, brittles and on and on. I keep my lists and laugh at the ones crossed off as " not enough time". I make half recipes and put together little boxes to send back East to my three Aunts and my brother Bobby and his kids. Today I have the folder out and am dreaming once again. My notepad is right here beside me and the list is started. I will not include peppermint bark as it is in every catalog on earth, Williams Sonoma, Crate & Barrel, Trader Joe's and who knows where else. Rocky Road Bark is on the list instead and persimmon breads for sure as I have an abundance of them this year. I let them get mushy ripe then froze them in ziplock bags. One bag is defrosting as I type this.

The recipe I have used for so many years that I can't remember when I first baked them is from "Beard on Bread" by James Beard. I love that book and have practically baked my way through it since it was published in the 1970's.  It is worth a try and here is the recipe with my little tweaks.

Persimmon Bread
3 1/2 c. sifted all purpose flour( unbleached is fine too)
1 1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. gr. coriander
2 1/2 c. sugar
1 c. melted unsalted butter
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 c. cognac (my favorite ingredient)
2 c. persimmon puree , the pulp of very ripe persimmons, no need to peel.
1 1/2 c. coarsely chopped nuts, hazelnuts are my choice but walnuts are delish too.
2 c. dried currants

Preheat oven to 350* Butter and flour molds.  This fills 4, 3-4 c. molds. 
Sift the dry ingredients into the mixing bowl of a Kitchen Aid mixer or other bowl.  Make a well in the center and add melted butter, eggs, Cognac, persimmon puree, nuts and raisins. Mix the dough until it is smooth.
Fill the molds 3/4 full and bake 1 hour or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Cool the molds before removing the breads. 
These can be made in advance, wrap in plastic wrap and foil and refrigerate 1-2 weeks or freeze.

My fun thing to do with part of the batter is to fill my mini tart pans and bake them off. They can then be wrapped as part of my cookie boxes.

The Minis

Persimmon breads ready for the oven

45 minutes later.....

On to the next project after we get the tree up. Oatmeal cookies! I hope Steve can eat them. They are his favorite but with his dry mouth it may be a challenge. Maybe I'll pour him a cup of eggnog to dip them in.

By the way I am following a couple of really good blogs:  Tigress in a Jam and Tigress in a Pickle,
What Julia Ate, Hitchhiking to Heaven and Orangette.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Friday, July 31- Wrapping up the week at Casa Diana Kennedy's

As we walked down the path from Diana's house for the last time we were all a little sad it was over. Everyone had mellowed towards her sharp tongue and instead concentrated on the information she so freely shared about her beloved Mexican cuisine.  As for myself, I secretly had a few laughs because Diana hasn't changed one bit since the first class I took from her in 1976 in Chicago.  She wants things done her way, following the recipes she has researched and tested in her books to the letter.  A few revisions were made to fit ingredients available in the her books but here we used the local ingredients, herbs, chiles, produce and dairy that have been used for decades.  Diana is trying to save these recipes from fast food oblivion. This is what I came here for.  The thrill of using her collection of cazuelas and ollas was beyond belief to me.  One really needs to leave their ego checked at the border to enjoy a trip like this.  I am sure everyone felt the same way.
Cindy closes the gate to Casa Diana

Diana Kennedy, center with our class, July 1992
 Back at San Cayetano, Mary collected tuition for the classes. She, Diana and I figured out the payments with Cindy and Paula paying for the extra half day when we return to San Francisco. I told Diana that the cheeses, cocoa and dates were a gift from "Taste Catering", who I worked for as their Director of Culinary Operations ( basically head Chef).  She was thrilled and promised to write a note and send down a revised "The Tortilla Book" for me to take back.
In the morning we were all packed and ready to leave this retreat.  Breakfast is Chilaquiles, the wonderful rolls and plates of papaya. I am not shy about eating breakfast anymore and savor the green peach marmalade one last time.  I can't possible carry anything else or I would take a jar each of it and the blackberry preserves.  Diana told me she has a recipe similar to the green peach marmalade in her " Nothing Fancy" cookbook.  I can't wait to look it up.
She joins us and as promised gives me the paperback copy of "The Tortilla Book" and a note to Taste Catering thanking them for the goodies.  Everything seems fine with she and Andre.  We are settling the bill with him which, of course, was complicated. He had me mixed up with Cindy the entire week, charging my food and drinks to her and vice versa. This was a riot to us as I guess all blondes look alike in Mexico.  We straightened it out with alot of  French Vietnamese-Spanish chatter from Andre .  Our bus arrived and off we went to Mexico City, crammed into the bus for a three hour non-stop whirlwind trip.

Whew! My trip down memory lane is over, at least for this adventure...
Here are some odds and ends of photos that I thought were fun.
Mary Risley
I love this picture of Diana showing us an old corn cob "scraper"

Diana's backyard " Panaderia"-built to emulate wood fired ovens in bakeries.
I wish we could have fired them up for bolillos and other bready things.

Adjacent to the adobe wood fired ovens, a clay comal for tortillas
These were built for classes and magazine shoots although I have never seen any of the articles.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Thursday, July 30- Day five, Last day of cooking at Casa Diana Kennedy

Last night Alejandro came to drive our group into Zitacuaro to shop at La Placita and have dinner at a restaurant-bar owned by a woman by the name of Lily, a friend of Andre's.  She also had a video of the opening ceremonies to the Summer Olympics.  I decided to forego this "adventure" to read a set of magazines called "Mexico Desconocido" that Diana loaned me. She wrote articles for this publication about regional dishes that were beautifully photographed and, conveniently, translated into English.  I took alot of notes even though many of the ingredients aren't available outside of the particular regions let alone the U.S.
There were photos of Braceros which are kitchen islands in older homes such as the one we are cooking at in Diana's house. One article was about the mother of Consuela, Diana's housekeeper. It described how she made tamales from the male corn plant when it tassles. It is quite a process of drying the seeds and beating them with a peach tree stick then grinding them for the masa. There were many other recipes that I won't be able to include at this time but will at sometime in the future.  
Diana's household staff was made up of Consuela, the aforementioned housekeeper, her husband Carlos who is the handyman, Vernonica, Carlo's sister, Sonia who works in the kitchen but is not related to the others, Miguel ( Ponsy) who helps out wherever needed and Alejandro sort of the Rancho manager.  They were all very sweet and certainly a patient group to work for Diana on a daily basis.

Veronica in the kitchen
I woke up Thursday and realized it was the last day of classes. Alejandro met us at 9am and off to the mercado we went to buy cazuelas and chiles.  The chiles moras ( chipocle mora) man was closed. Diana strongly recommended we take some of the Mora's home. Oh well.  We found plenty of cazuelas and Mexican utensils and everyone had fun choosing their treasures to lug home.  Tom and Cindy each bought beautiful large deep bowls with smooth thick handles and a good glaze.  We did get lessons in glazes and Diana assured us she has had many "lead tests" all of which came out negative. She does, after all cook daily in the local pottery. I bought four small covered bowls for sope plus two salsa bowls to take home to my girlfriend Weezie.  Heidi and I went farther back into the market to check out other vendors. She bought great soup and stew bowls, about 12 of them for $5. US. I found a large covered cazuela with the same flowers as my soup bowls again for $5. US, a large hand carved wooden spoon to add to my collection and for souveniors we picked up little "Zitacuaro" ashtrays. Mary wanted a comal so we got that for her.
Diana's collection of Regional Mexican pottery-we got to use alot of these pieces

We went back to San Cayetano and unloaded.  Heidi had  had a bad night so stayed back to rest.  Diana was delighted to see the five of us but concerned over Heidi.  Compliments all around from Diana, Cindy's blue shirt with a red apron impressed her as did Mary and my French print scarves and on and on.  She was ready for a few days off I think. We began to talk about the days menu.  She already had chicken for "Sopa de Lima" poaching in the earthenware pot.  She added extra bones to enrich the stock.  We picked the bitter limes from the greenhouse.  What a different lime!  They were bright dark green like the Persian limes but fragrant with a bitter flesh that was perfect for the sope.  "The Cuisines of Mexico" has this seemingly simple recipe on pgs 144-145. There are quite a few steps to get the sopa into our bowls but my favorite part is the end of the recipe where you drop half of a bitter lime into the broth then retrieve it after a few seconds, place broth into individual soup bowls, fry tortilla strips and while they are still hot drop some into the broth so they sizzle. Little bowls of condiments similar to pozole are passed around.
Heidi showed up mid day feeling much better and with her appetite back. 

Heidi Krahling-happy mom to be
We started on a difficult dish called "Papa Dzules" or Tortillas in pumpkinseed sauce.  The tortillas are dipped in pumpkinseed sauce, filled with chopped hard boiled egg, rolled up and covered with more sauce. It is finished with tomato sauce and little pools of green oil squeezed from the pumpkinseeds. What a beautiful dish!   Everyone had a turn at squeezing the oil out of the toasted and ground pumpkinseeds.  A little broth is added and the ground seeds are kneaded until they become a dark color.  You need to squeeze the paste until drops of oil exude from it.  This is harder than it sounds.  Diana did alot of the squeezing which I can see would be a good way to take out aggressions.  Tom, with his large hands, did the best squeezing.  What a great flavor! We all licked our fingers and groaned.  Mary wanted to lick Tom's fingers but he resisted.  The eggs that filled the hand patted tortillas were from Diana's hens. They were the brightest yellow that I have ever seen with a very rich flavor.  The sauce was "Salsa de Jitomate Yucateca" from the same book, "Cuisines of Mexico". We used alot of epazote in the broth which was added to the pumpkinseed paste after most of the oil was extracted.  This formed the green sauce.  It was a fairly heavy dish when all was said and done but delicious.

Diana Kennedy squeezing the oil out of pumpkinseed paste
 There were "Uchepas" or, green corn tamales, resteamed and served with pork stew and slices of queso anejo plus Diana's crema.  Mary made ice-less margaritas. I pounded Diana's coarse sea salt in her small molecate for the rim of the glasses.  They were authentic and cut through the richness of the dishes.  Mary's nose turned bright red and she declared herself "high".  We followed the margaritas with "coronitas" and finished our meal. Diana brewed some of her homegrown, dried and roasted coffee. It was delicious.  She also served a little plate of dried peaches and more booze! Mescal with apples.  Tom loved that! 

Tom Worthington with his beloved apple infused mezcal
She talked about her ecology movement.  They are making honey in the Yucatan from bees that gather nectar from tropical flowers that are in danger of extinction.  It is now called "Jungle Honey", a name we all disliked.  She had some for us to taste.  The flavor was very different, acidic, light and sort of grainy.  The proceeds will be put back into the area to help preserve it.

Paula Lambert intently listening to Diana's stories, "Bracero"
or kitchen island in the background
We made "Conchas" or breakfast pastries from a frozen starter.  They were a bit dry and not the most interesting except for the topping of raw sugar mixed with butter and shortening.  Her oven was acting up and Tom straightened the heating element out. She promised to finish baking them off.  We were all interested in the metal cutters that shaped the Conchas. I wish I could draw them but they are round with straight blades about 1/2" apart on one side and either curved blades or squares on the other depending on the pattern desired. We trekked up to the top of the hill on Diana's property to take pictures of the vista and her partially hidden house( I don't know where my pictures went). Classes were over but she promised to join us at Andre's for pozole that evening when we would settle the bill for the week.
Diana came over bearing the Chorizo verde and Chorizo rojo that we made earlier in the week and left to dry.  They were to be prepared for breakfast the next day along with the conchas.  Andre made himself scarce but did oversee the kitchen when the pozole was served.  It was delicious and a perfect ending to the day.  We had beer and another sipping of tequila with Diana joining us.  She promised to bid us off in the morning and most likely make sure the chorizo was served!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wednesday, Jul 29-Day four, Cooking at Casa Diana Kennedy

Kaopectate Day!!
Last night I felt the beginnings of the "touristas" but waited until this morning to take the kaopectate tablets I brought along. I did not have cramps or stomach problems so hopefully it will be alright.
Each morning I have been able to make a cup of tea in my room using my little electric immersion heater.  I also use it to heat water for the hot rollers for my hair.  It cost $1.25 and has served me well but, alas, it gave out today. No more pre-breakfast tea. Oh well only a few more days.  Andre Claude's kitchen served a great blackberry jam with breakfast.  I pretty much stuck to the wonderful rolls and some fruit in the morning, not being much of a breakfast person anyway. The tamales were not served.....I sense trouble.
We had an invigorating hike up to "Quinta Diana's". It is a beautiful, rustic road and it gives us a chance to chat on the way up, before we are out of breath.

 Diana greets us, worried, as she only saw three at breakfast and today is the third day when the students start dropping off.  We reassure her that all is well.  I keep it to myself that the smells of things cooking are a bit overwhelming.  After a few minutes we start our lessons.
First, questions from the previous day and critique of the food are the topics.  We discussed the tamales, "Oh did you have them for breakfast" she asks, we all stuttered, "no".  Mary said she told Andre Claude that they were to be served at breakfast.   Diana starts boiling over, thinking his kitchen staff stole them or something.
We finish our discussion and she is off to ring up Andre.  An argument ensues and she hangs up on him.  She can't concentrate on our lesson.  Andre phones back twice but the answering machine is on.  She intimates that if he gets angry enough he is likely to evict us and refuse to take anymore groups.  She gets very worried and says she will send a note.  I am thinking that it is highly unlikely that we will be evicted or that he will refuse to take more groups. Zitacuaro is not exactly a resort. I can't imagine who else comes down here to vacation or visit. Diana is the main draw for Americans, I am sure.
Anyway we  go over the many tasks for today.  There weren't alot of recipes but they were the more complex ones.  One of my favorite recipes from "Cuisines of Mexico" is the classic Mole Poblano.  She taught it while I was in Chicago in the 70's.  Steve actually bought me the huge orange Le Cruset dutch oven so I could make it.  I have lugged that around lovingly and still have it.  Instead of turkey, we used chicken that was poached leaving out the carrot.  All of the seeds,bread, tortillas and chiles were fried in lard.  It turned out perfect.  Mine has occasionally had a slight burned taste but this was wonderful.  The chocolate was a very bittersweet-grainy tablet which may have made a big difference.  The Mole Poblano was served with tortillas.  We thanked Tom and Paula for tackling this.
From "The Art of Mexican Cooking" Cindy made Green Pozole.  The hominy (corn) has to be soaked in lime to loosen the skins.  This was done yesterday and was cleaned and ready for the soup.  Diana had already started cooking it in a beautiful clay pot with onion and garlic. It has to be fully cooked before adding it into the pozole.  The "green" comes from the use of sorrel ( so happy as I have a patch at home), raw hulled pumpkinseeds and tomatillos. There was alot of toasting, grinding, mashing and blending.  She suggested only straining the blended ingredients if the sorrel is stringy.  Pozole is a hearty soup that is served with an assortment of condiments which is the fun of eating it.  This version was served with: toasted chicharron ( you know, fried pork rinds), wedges of lime, oregano, chopped serrano chiles, avocado and chopped onion.  It was excellent.  The Kaopectate was working.

Diana serving the Pozole Verde
Next was a dish we did when Diana taught at Tante Marie's Cooking School in San Francisco.  It was a salad of Nopales or cactus paddles.  "Ensalada de Nopalitos"  from "The Art of Mexican Cooking".
I took this one on with Diana's help. First sweat the 1/3" diced nopaoles. They have to be cut into precise little squares. One has to take off the spines first unless you purchase them already cleaned.  Diana's were so fresh that the spines scraped right off. Onion is sauteed in a little oil and the nopalitos are added with salt. The pan was covered to let the slimy liquid exude. With the cover removed, we boiled away the liquid and let them cool down. To make a "salad", toppings were prepped consisting of sliced tomatoes, chopped cilantro, purple onion rings, crumbled queso fresco ( white, salty cheese), jalapenos en escabeche and avocado slices. The juice from the jalapenos en escabeche was used to flavor the nopalitos instead of lime or vinegar.
I love all salads but this one is right up there with my favorites.
The last recipe was "Tamales de Frijol Negro" from the same book.  These are pretty complex but worth the effort. We all had a hand in them. Basically a ball of masa is centered onto a plastic "baggie" that lines a tortilla press. Another baggie is placed over the top and the tortilla press squishes the dough into a disk, just like a tortilla.  A black bean paste is spread over the disk.  The baggie is lifted so the dough folds over itself on each side to enclose the filling. Then the top and bottoms are folded over to make a rectangular shape.
A piece of hoja santa ( Saint's herb or root beer plant) is placed on top and the tamale is transferred to prepared corn husks to be wrapped up and transferred to the steamer. The hoja santa has a flavor like root beer. It is a beautiful plant with large fuzzy heart shaped leaves. I immediately ordered a little plant from a place in Texas and it took to my Mill Valley garden beautifully. Every time Diana came to town she knew she could use some of my leaves.  Anyway the tamales were steamed in this huge steamer with the requisite pesos on the bottom.  If the pesos are rattling the water hasn't boiled away.  These were served with a picante Salsa de Pasilla made with smoked Pasilla chiles from Oaxaca..Tom and I decided we had to find a source for these!

Steaming Tamales, Heidi, Mary,Tom &

Tamales de Frijoles Negro
 We sat down to taste our bounty and Diana brought out bottles of Coronitas...heaven!

Pozole, Ensalada de Nopalitos & Coronitas

Monday, October 4, 2010

Tuesday, July 28-Evening of Day Three-Big night out on the town

Diana had sent our leftover tamales to Andre Claude, proprietor of the San Cayetano motel that we were staying at, in a basket.  We delivered them to him as he was arranging for a taxi to take us into town to the new "La Placito" where we could buy pottery and watch the Olympics at the "Video Taco Bar'.
After our, now, routine evening session of going over recipes together and griping about Diana's way of teaching-she gets on everyone's case for making mistakes or not asking her before finishing a recipe (she is the foremost authority of this cuisine, lest we forget, and therefore entitled to making sure we get it right),we decided to go into town.  Actually we had no choice since Andre worked hard finding a trustworthy taxi driver to take us in and pick us up.  While waiting Andre offered us beers (which we paid for) and Barbara, a local woman showed up to chat and have a "tea punch" on Andre. He says she is "the hair in my soup". Lucky for us the taxi showed up before any retaliation by Barbara was made.  Off we went to the new "La Placito".  The taxi left us off agreeing to pick us up at 9:30.  We stepped inside the plaza and everything was CLOSED!! We decided to wander down to the Revolucion Avenida where we found another "video bar".  It was nice and quiet except for MTV and the Coronas were ice cold.  Mary was hungry so Tom ordered tostadas.  They arrived and we ate them, laughing our guts out as we tried to figure out what the topping was. It was gelatinous and I guessed pickled pigs feet or ear.  Anyway they were good.
We arrived back at the plaza at exactly taxi.  It was raining and a few other people were standing around. These were pre-cell phone days.  Finally one Senore spoke some English and said our driver had been there, realized the plaza was closed and left!  This wasn't a big deal except we hadn't paid for the ride.  We found another taxi on Revolucion to take us back.  Andre was waiting with a lecture about "his" man coming all the way back to see if we were there and him sending him back into town for us. In the end it cost us $15mp taxi home and $40mp for the four trips the first driver made.  Andre is a "lecturer".  Mary, Tom and I were only hoping to make it through the night without any bathroom problems from the "pickled appendage tostadas" so we paid whatever Andre wanted. That was our "big" night out in Zitacuaro!
Unfortunately I did not take any pictures...they would have been the best!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tuesday, July 28, 1992-Day three at Casa Diana Kennedy

Back from vacation, running around the state for Steve's Dr. appts. and getting into the work groove.  Blog time again!

Everyone walked up to Diana's today.  It was straight uphill through a very lush area.  We took a path and followed it to a point that we didn't recognize.  Heidi thought we missed a turn. I didn't have a clue as directions are not my strong point. Mary and Cindy missed the point and kept going.  We three went back to the "missed turn".  The other two were up to the Casa well in advance!  We got the more scenic tour of the village of "San Pancho", or formally known as "San Francisco Coatepec de Morelos".  We passed a hospital, church and school.  That was it and the hospital looked a bit dubious.
Diana was cheery and glad to see us in good health.  Everyone seems to wait for first of us to fall ill.  It turned out to be a great photo taking day.  We set straight to our tasks with Diana the "mother hen" at our heals.  Mary keeps things light with her wit.  She has said right from the beginning of this trip that she is a blank slate as far as Mexican cooking is concerned.  This is her vacation as well so she is entitled to take it easy and observe alot.  There is plenty of good food happening today.

After lunch, Diana gives us a tour of her home and greenhouse.  What a thrill!  We aren't allowed to take pictures of her living quarters and now I see why.  They are so well thought out and very elegant without being lavish.  Surely a "paid" magazine spread in the future.  Her guest room has a veranda with a spectular view of the mountains in the area.  The bathrooms are cream and brown tiled with wood slate floors.   Diana's private bath has a deep tiled tub that looks like a  Jacuzzi plus a bidet!  Beats the rough toilet paper.  The bed is covered with a tweed burlap-type fabric with posters and mosquito netting over all.  She has a separate lounge for reading.  Mary always needs a  nap so Diana put up a hammock for her.  Lots of funny pictures were snapped with Mary in that!  There is a greenhouse off the end of the living room near where the guest room and master bedroom are with more vista views!  Diana built this house from the ground up with alot of thought towards the land and enviornment.  In the greenhouse were all sorts of greens & herbs only found in this part of Mexico (as far as I know).  I try to identify those that she let us taste but it is difficult to remember the spanish names of all of them.
Before the tour we were busy with our menu for the day.
First off was Silil P'ak, a delicious pumpkinseed dip straight out of Recipes from the Regional Cooks of Mexico"  I began making this in Chicago and it is still one of my favorite recipes.The recipe I use is in my July 27 post by the way.  This version was a little watery and not hot enough for me.  Of course there was a  sopa del dia and today's was White Bean and Dried Shrimp Soup  from "Art of Mexican Cooking.  There was much discussion about the dried shrimp.  Diana assured us we would never find the right ones in the U.S.  She advised against using fresh as they wouldn't absorb the flavors.  It was suggested that we grind up the ones we have in the U.S. and add to the soup if we had to use fresh.  I may try to find good quality dried shrimp in Chinatown when I get back to San Francisco.  She brought out jars of different sizes of dried shrimp, the ones from the coast were the size of ants.  They were interesting indeed!
Heidi made Jalepenos en Escabeche  a take on the Chiles Serranos en Escabeche from "Recipes from the Regional Cooks of Mexico"  pg. 163. She added a pinch of Poloncillo, Mexican brown sugar, and used Diana's housemade fruit vinegar. They were wonderful! Every Mexican table has a little bowl of the pickled chiles with carrots, onions and herbs on it, the canned ones are just not the same.
We had procurred huge mushrooms from the market called "Coronas". They look like Portbellas, very large, brown and meaty. I took the whole cap and sauteed it flat with safflower oil, garlic and salt, turning it once.  We cut it up and ate it with tortillas and limes.  Unbelievable how such a simple preparation tasted soo good.
Thank goodness there were 5 of us as we teamed up to finish the day's tasks.  Next, Cindy and Paula made Tamales Estilo Veracruzano.  We did these in class at Tante Marie's school and again today.  The masa wasn't quite right so there was much discussion about that. The recipe is straight out of  "The Cuisines of Mexico" pg 101. The concensus on masa was to use 1/2 que broda (coarse) : 1/2 masa para tortillas (smooth).  These tamales are wrapped in banana leaves, filled with pork that is cooked in water with onion and garlic, left to cool in the broth, strained and added to a chile sauce made with tomatoes, onion, garlic and dried ancho chiles along with the reserved broth.  I could have just eaten it as a stew at this point! The masa is beaten with a little of the pork broth then spread on a banana leaf. A  few cubes of the pork with sauce is placed on top of the masa and a small piece of a leaf called "hoja santa" which is called 'the root beer plant" in Texas is placed on top of the masa. The edges of the banana leaf is folded over this and the little packets are stacked  in a Tamale Steamer one on top of the other.  Traditionally a few pesos are in the bottom of the steamer.  As long as they are rattling you know the water hasn't dried up.  The tamales are covered with a thick cloth and the lid placed the steamer. They are left to steam their little selves off for about 1 hour.
Diana showing Cindy how to form the tamales

They were fabulous and Diana sent the rest of  the tamales back with us with instructions that Andre was to prepare them for our breakfast.  Little did we know what a mistake THAT was!!!

I set to work on Pollo en Mole Verde from "The Art of Mexican Cooking" .  I love this Oaxacan mole. It is everything green in it's glory!  Poblano chiles, cilantro, parsley, swiss chard, romaine lettuce, tomatillos, green pumpkinseeds as well as other spices. The "pollo" of it is a recipe in itself and could be used for a number of dishes calling for poached chicken.  Diana had an earthenware pot just for poaching chicken.  Of course I had to have one and found one before we left.  I swear it made a difference from the stainless saucepans usually used at my house.  Of course the chickens are all fresh from the market, you could buy them alive but thank goodness Diana spared us that and bought hers from the butcher.  It was cut up and poached with the giblets, onion, garlic and sea salt.  We let it cool off in the broth while the sauce was made.
There was much toasting, frying and grinding for the Verde sauce. The blender is definetely an essential piece of equipment in the Mexican Cocina these days.  They used to  use the heavy stone "metate y mano" or "molcajete y Tejolote" (mortar and pestle).  We used one of Diana's beautiful "Cazuelas" which can be used over the flame on the stovetop to cook down the Mole Verde. This is cooked in lard until it is a deep rich green, adding more stock and lard if it is too dry.  I love lard! She suggests substituting safflower oil if you must.
The cooked chicken pieces were added during the last 10 minutes of cooking. When pools of fat show up and the mole glistens it is ready to serve.  This is one Mole that is best served the day it is made as the herbiness looses it's vibrancy when chilled overnight.  Many pictures were snapped of this one!  We served it with the always handmade tortillas that Veronica and staff made each day.

Pollo en Mole Verde
To finish up the day we had yet another mushroom dish of sliced "clavitos" the little chanterelle type ones. These were sauteed with the now typical onion, garlic, epazote combo but served with little blue corn tortillas.
Diana is tired and we leave at 4:30 or so today.  Her little dog " Chespa" follows us to the gate and off we went down the "correct" shorter path, snapping pictures as we go.   Just before our casa, San Cayetano, Mary spots a "se vende miel" sign and wants to buy some honey! Of course everyone who speaks spanish in our group is already in the rancho driveway so the two of us push back the overgrown vines and attempt to buy "meil".  It was a riot! There were brown chickens everywhere but mostly in the tropical tree branches above our heads. Scrawny dogs and cute baby chicks scampered about.  A young girl with a baby approached us and somehow we got the point across that we wanted "meil"  Her mother came out to make sure I hadn't misunderstood the price which was $10,000 ps and thought it was $2,000 and she thought I meant I wanted 2 jars so that's what we got!  After about 10 min. with everyone in the family running in and out of doors-trying to find jars I imagine.  The younger brother was kicking the scrawniest of the dogs so it wouldn't bark at us ( or worse).  Mary was asking me all sorts of questions as to why people live like this, reproduce so often and kick their dogs.  I didn't have an answer but I bet Diana would. The honey arrived, 2 qts at $10m each approximately $3. US.  It looked lucious. I couldn't wait to get it home and taste it.
Our adventure for this day didn't end there.....

Monday, August 23, 2010

Monday,July 27, 1992, day two at Casa Diana

Diana met us at Rancho San Cayetano and we discussed the previous day.  She was upset that we thought it should have been an "orientation" day, not a paid class day. There was some descension among the group about paying for five classes when they thought it was four.  Mary and I talked and she agreed to negotiate with Diana.
We went into town to the bank and market.  Spectacular mushrooms! Bright yellow-orange, huge blue ones and small clavitos.  It was noon when we arrived back at Diana's cocina and a full day of cooking awaited us.  We worked very hard and could see she was upset about the misunderstanding. What a way to start what was supposed to be the chance of a lifetime to study under the foremost authority on traditional Mexican cooking. I was a little pissed at some of the complainers. Everyone seemed to mellow as the day went on.  We were cooking cuisines from the Yucatan Pennisula.  Pork is the word here.  The kitchen staff already had "pibil cochinitas" in the oven.  This is a 4# pork loin end rubbed with achiote paste ( housemade of course),wrapped in banana leaves and baked in a covered dish for 2 1/2 hours or so.  Traditionally, a hole is dug in the ground with stones placed in the bottom. A fire is lit and allowed to burn until the stones are blistering hot.  Some of the stones and wood embers are taken out and the container with the banana leaf wrapped pork is set on top.  Wet burlap sacks are stacked on top and the stones and embers placed back on top. The hole is filled with dirt and the meat is allowed to cook for 2 1/2-3 hours.  Sort of like a Hawaiian Pig roast or Back East Clambake.  This sort of cooking has been around forever.  Anyway the oven sufficed this time.  This pork was to be the filling for Panuchos a wonderful small filled tortilla.  We made the panuchos on the the thin metal comal to achieve the desired puffiness. They are made with corn tortilla dough formed into small rounds and placed on the hot "comal" until they puff up. We let them cool enough to handle and carefully sliced a pocket into each of them.  These were filled with traditional hard cooked egg slices and black bean paste. We pressed them a little so the filling wouldn't come out.
Next we heated lard and fried the "panuchos" until they were just crisp.  While these were being done someone had prepared my favorite- "Yucatecan pickled onions" These were seasoned with Yucatecan oregano which has a ribbed leaf, larger than our domestic, plus, bitter Seville orange juice and Chile Habenero, diced.  They are usually made with a lighter vinegar brine in my kitchen so these were a  little bitter, but good with the pork.  Chile Habenero is a killer hot bright yellow-orange chile.  A little goes a long way!  The pork was shredded and we were in heaven when these little goodies were assembled.  Simply pile pork and onions on top and enjoy!  "The Cuisines of Mexico" contains the step by step preparations for these.

Next we prepared Calabacitas, one of my mainstays for a Mexican buffet. It is so delicious and a good vegetarian filling for tortillas.  Basically it is a zucchini-corn-tomato dish. Diana's is a wonderfully authentic version. Roast about 1 1/2# tomatoes until they are soft. Cut up the same amount of zucchini into 1/2" dice
Heat oil,we used safflower oil in her kitchen but I use peanut oil in mine, saute squash, adding chopped Epazote, a Yucatecan herb that tastes like a minty oregano but smells like gasoline. It is really good and easy to grow.  The tomatoes were placed in a blender with 2 cloves of garlic, 1 medium chopped white onion and 2 charred chopped serrano chiles.
This was added to the skillet of zucchini, seasoned with salt and cooked at a simmer until tender and the juices reduced.  Serve with grated cheese, Chihuahua is soooo good, it is like a Jack Cheese but with alot more buttery flavor, oh,we ran the casuela under the broiler so the cheese melted into gooey wonderfulness!

Next there was a "Sopa" or soup on the menu. This one was from her "Recipes from the Regional Cooks of Mexico" book.
                                                         Sopa de Hava
We soaked 2 c. yellow "hava" beans which are flat beans that can be found in Middle Eastern stores, or well stocked Mexican stores Drain the beans and saute in a little oil.  Add 1 1/2 c. diced white onion, 1 1/2 c diced roma tomatoes, 2 tsp. chopped garlic, 1/2 c. chopped cilantro, 2 chopped serrano chiles and 1-2 tsp salt.  Add water to cover and cook until the beans have broken down and are soft. Season with a pinch of cumin.  She had us toast dried pasilla chiles and crumble them over the soup. HEAVENLY! The beans, come to think of it remind of dried favas (havas, favas all good).

Another group was working on Diana's signature dish, "Lactarios Indio" or Blue Mushrooms from "The Art of Mexican Cooking".  Here is a picture of the infamous blue mushrooms from Zitacuaro!

We reduced about a quart of cream until it was quite thick, 20 min or so, sweated 2 cloves garlic and 2 Tbsp. chopped white onion in oil, use more depending on how many mushrooms you have, added strips of roasted and peeled Chilaco chile ( a local long dark, thinnned skinned, green chile) and cooked for a few minutes.  Next cleaned sliced mushrooms x 4 C. were added. Sprinkle with salt and cook down to release the juices. Ours were very meaty mushrooms so alot of reduced cream ( we used 1 1/2 c.) was needed. We continued cooking until very thick.  The dish was finished with chopped epazote.  She served them in heated blue corn tortillas but I liked them just out of the pan.
Blue corn was the rage in the 1990's, Mark Miller, Rick Bayless and numerous other Chefs were featuring it on their menus and coincidentally all of them studied with Diana at one time or another.

There is more!  We had all of these fabulous mushrooms ( see picture in my last blog). The bright gold-orange mushroom is called " Tecomatoes".  This was a simple preparation of sweating garlic and onion, adding the mushrooms and covering them to steam.  Remove the lid and let the juices reduce.  Toss in chopped chile serrano and, of course as it is Yucatecaen day, chopped epazote.  These were served over a salad of "Chevito", a local wild green with sliced onion, lime juice, X-Virgin Olive Oil and salt.

One of Diana's requests was to bring her some olive oil and cocoa powder of which Taste Catering, where I was Executive Chef, had plenty of.  I brought her a big bag of Valrhona cocoa and she was so pleased. I think Mary or Tom lugged the olive oil down.

We had so many wonderfully different ingredients and were tasting all of them.  One in particular, Mamay fruit was really beautiful and tasty. The skin was brown with salmon red pulp and a beautiful shiny brown skin. It tasted sweet with a cooked yam texture.  I picked up a copy of a very cool magazine "Mexico Descononcido" from Diana and read that the seeds are used in Puebla, boiled then smoked and ground for sauces.  The local Papaya was very large with salmon pink flesh and also very good.

Heidi and I managed to fit in making Chorizo.  I made the Chorizo Verde which was the recipe in "The Art of Mexican Cooking" .  I added 6 coarse ground chiles serranos which was not in the recipe.  Heidi made the traditional chorizo out of the same book.  We hand stuffed them and tied them off with corn husk strips.  Diana set up a fan to dry them.  Off we went to our motel and beers that Andre had waiting for us.

Heidi hard at work stuffing chorizo mixture into the casing while Diana continues to lecture.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Our Obsession with Mexican Food=The Diana Kennedy days

After moving to San Francisco, I had the pleasure of taking classes from Diana Kennedy again at Tante Marie's Cooking School. I mentioned the classes in Chicago and she remembered me so we chatted it up for awhile. She had a new cookbook out " The Art of Mexican Cooking" and was showcasing recipes from it. Delicious as usual! Mary Risley, the cooking school owner was amazed at this British woman living and teaching in a remote town in Mexico. Diana is dubbed the "leading authority on Mexican food" in Mexico as well as here. The classes were oversold and Mary and Diana got along very well.  I was amazed that Mary could brush aside Diana's "high strung" outbursts. Of course, I did as well which is how we became friends.
Diana invited Mary to bring a group of students to her home in Zitacuaro,Michoacan Mexico,  for a week of cooking. I helped organize a group of six. Five women and one man. All of us were very involved with Tante Marie's and got along wonderfully. Heidi Krahling graduated from Mary's 9 month program.
She is Chef-owner of the very successful "Insalata's" and "Marinitas" restaurants in San Anselmo, Ca. Paula Lambert was working as  a sales rep for Greenleaf Produce, the first organic farm to kitchen produce company in San Francisco, Cindy Mushet , graduated from Tante Marie's pastry program and was just starting out working in bakeries and now has published 3-4 award winning books. Tom Worthington, the lone male is co owner of Monterey Fish  a sustainable- "be kind to the ocean" company and one of the first of it's kind in the Bay Area. He supplies all of the top chefs as well as teaches "fish mongering" at Tante Marie's. Mary and I rounded out the group. I don't have a link but taught classes as well as developed the catering department. I kept a journal and will post excerpts from it. It was quite a week and we were all exhausted at the end but satiated with Diana's wonderful cuisine and knowledge of life in Mexico.

The year was 1992 before the major drug cartels moved into parts of Mexico. There were small cells of drug traffickers in Zitacuaro that Diana alluded to. She referred to the "brash element" of rich Middle Easterners who had moved to the area, bought expensive cars and indulged in drugs.
We took United Airlines to Mexico City and Diana's driver picked us up, schlepped our heavy bags into the van (we were required to bring her cookbooks with) and off we went for the 3 1/2 hr drive to "Casa Diana". We were all starving so the driver stopped in Toluca for street stand tacos and soft drinks ( no cervezas unfortunately). The tacos were some sort of tripe sausage and "res"(meat).We loved them!
Diana met us at Rancho San Cayetano, the motel that would be our home for the week. As it was after 11 pm, we were quite surprised to see her there. Andre Claude, the proprietor, a French-Vietnamese man, had hot spinach soup with crusty rolls waiting for us. Finally we were here! It was July and I expected a tropical climate, quite the opposite. Zitacuaro is a mountainous town and it cools down rapidly after the sun sets. Diana warned us of "damp sheets" as they do not have dryers here. They are "supposed to iron them dry" meaning good luck with that one. It was a charming motel and each room was different but had the same 1960's bedspreads with blocks of chartruese, brown and orange. French doors opened up to a concrete ledge with a field of weeds in back. I kept mine locked. It was pretty chilly sleeping as the outside temps dropped into the 40's.

The" first day" of class was Sunday, a matter of contention later in the week. Everyone was in the dining room of Rancho San Cayetano devouring Chilaques with eggs when I got there. Much too early for me so I opted for the most flavorful melon and crusty rolls with a local jam which I learned later was "green peach" jam. At 9:30 Diana rolled up in her yellow pickup truck with a camper shell. She was relieved that none of us got sick from the street tacos the night before. It took awhile for the six of us to get it together but we piled in and off to the central market we went. So far so good.
Our first impression of Zitacuaro was that it was basically a sloppy town. It is "blue collar" mechanics heaven! Auto parts were abundant along the sidewalks, VW dealerships abounded. This changed when we saw that the square was large, clean and crowded. Diana warned us not to wear shorts. She didn't want any trouble with the local riff raff. We trailed along with Diana as she picked up food for our classes pointing out different herbs, greens, mushrooms and much more. Paula was the bookeeper, keeping track of what Diana spent and I took pictures of the most interesting people and their wares.

Heidi, Diana, Cindy and Tom looking over the garlic and other vegetables.

We stopped back at the motel to collect belongings and use the bathrooms. That started to try Diana's patience. No one had everything gathered at once and had to keep running back for things. She casually mentioned that there were bugs that attacked your armpits and crotch, did we remember to bring insect repellent?  Off we all went back to our rooms to douse ourselves then back to the truck, she then said it is sure to rain, do your need your raingear?  Everyone didn't think so- she said "you do if you plan to go outside"!  Back to our rooms for raingear. By that time she was calling someone, or her truck " a pain in the ass" her piercing brown eyes blazing. It wouldn't be the last time we saw those brown eyes flaring.  Unfortunately Heidi mentioned she was pregnant and she actually was hesitating even coming down here but her Dr. assured her it would be okay.  Diana started picking on her immediately maybe thinking she would be the "weak one" who would hold everyone up.  This did not happen. Anyway we pile into the truck for the trek up to her house.  At one point we had to bale out so she could get it over the dip at the end of the driveway.  I was looking forward to walking from the Rancho to her Casa the rest of the week!
We finally arrive to "Casa Diana".  What a thrill for me. It was very Mexican in architecure and landscape. She explained that "modern landscape" strips the land of all trees and native plants whereas she is trying to preserve them. The Mexican Government awarded her its highest honor-the order of the Aztec Eagle for her enviornmental efforts. 
As we approach the entrance to her house there is a vicious dog (one of many) to greet us. She assures us he is locked up.  Her Shelton Terrier ie pit bull of five months jumps all over us with joy.  She is named Chespa but Mary calls her Cream Puff!  After a tour of the grounds and descriptions of the fruits and vegetables we commence cooking.  Now, Diana is a no nonsense person, strict about following her recipes to the letter and only wants serious students in her classes.  No talking allowed while she is, no drifting off and absolutely no improvising!!  Her recipes work and are delicious.  She is trying to preserve these old recipes before they are lost to modern fast food ways.  She requested that we refrain from taking pictures of her interior living quarters ( which were very beautiful in a rustic way). Later we are allowed to photograph pictures of the food and kitchen area which was the best part, in my opinion and I took alot of pictures.  Her house is built around huge boulders-actual rocks were in the living room.  Lavatory facilities are outside with a barrel of rainwater for flushing and cedar branches for a floor.  It was great! There were stands with bowls of water that contained an antiseptic solution that we washed our hands in as well as the fruits and vegetables outside the kitchen.
We commenced a rather chaotic afternoon of cooking.  Heidi was really tired, Cindy was famished, the electricity went out due to the thunderstorm that was rumbling outside. She sent Mary and one of the kitchen helpers out in the truck. in the thunderstorm, to go back to the Rancho and tell Andre to call the electric company. 30 minutes later Mary returned without the truck, soaked and not very happy. They had driven through a deep puddle and stalled the truck.  I had to sympathize with her as I would have never driven Diana's truck to begin with.  As it turned out Miguel, the helper had run down to Andre's and all was being taken care of...except it was Sunday and no one was at the power plant to turn the electricity on.  The generator worked for an hour or two until it got too hot and turned off.  So...much of the day was spent with Diana fretting about no electricity and swearing at the Electric Company for not having anyone there.
There were techniques in the food preparation that required blenders or grinders so we improvised with our knives and molecates (mortar and pestles).  She wasn't satisfied with the end much for that!
We sat down to eat or rather "commence eating "at 4:30 or so.  Here is what we prepared that day,
                    Sope de Guias-Squash Blossom Soup with Clavitos
Saute onions &garlic until sweated, add 1#sliced mushrooms(clavitos), cover until juices are released, remove cover and reduce juices.  Add cut up squash blossoms x 4 bu. (if they are "male" blossoms remove the outer green parts as they are bitter).  Dice round pale green squash x 3. Take sweet corn off the cob x2.   Roast, peel and tear into strips 2 Chiloca Chiles,one of many new delicious chiles that we used.
Have 6 c chicken stock simmering and add mushrooms, squash blossoms,chiles & zucchini.  Season with a large sprig of Epazote ( I love this herb and have been growing for 20 yrs or so).  Let simmer 30-40 min. Taste for flavor, add corn and salt.

This was followed by Carnitas which is a recipe straight out of  "The Cuisines of Mexico" pg 112-113
While making this we rendered lard in the oven at 350* in heavy skillets. Wonderful stuff!
Diana's kitchen helpers, Vera and Sonia made the blue corn tortillas.  Salsa Fresca was served with the Carnitas. See previous blog for the Salsa Fresca recipe or rather technique.
Diana's Guacamole was made in a molecate, a simple preparation of grinding 1 serrano chile, 1/4 white onion, a few sprigs of cilantro leaves and a pinch of salt to a paste, mash in an avocado. Peel, seed and chop a tomato and stir that in along with 1 tbsp chopped onion. No lime or other spices are needed. We spooned this into blue corn tortillas with a green called Papaloquelitz=the butterfly greens as that is what the leaves resemble. They were smooth, dark green and good for digestion, according to Diana, plus very good tasting.
Heavenly food!
We made Mexican Rice from the book but her guidance and descriptions of the cooking process were priceless:  Pour boiling water to cover over 1c.white long grain rice.  Rinse once and shake dry. Fry the rice in chicken fat until it pops " like dried beans out of a pod".  In a blender, grind 2-3 ripe tomatoes with 1/2 chopped white onion ( no yellow onions here).  Add to the rice and fry until the whole is dry and practically sticking to the pan.  Add sliced or diced carrot and fresh peas.  Pour stock or water over to cover by 1/2" add salt and stir. Cook until holes appear on top. Test for tenderness without stirring, add more liquid if necessary. Cover and let steam 5 min.. Turn off heat and let sit 5 min. more or until ready to serve. Fluff and serve.

And that Ladies and Gents is exactly how I make my rice to this day but substitute peanut oil if I don't have chicken fat but I don't tell Diana.

Mushrooms, chiles, black avocados
green peaches
Squash blossoms, cactus paddles and the butterfly greens
I think she is a friend of Diana's and very happy to see those pesos


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

July is getting away from me!

Wow, it is the middle of July already and I haven't gotten my Part II of "Our Obsession with Mexican Food" going yet. It isn't like I haven't started, I have pictures, recipes, notes from my trip to Diana Kennedy's Casa in Zitucuaro but can't get it organized the way I want it, so, I will digress to what is current here at the beach.
The July 4th weekend which started on Thursday for us, was non stop between working and visiting friends. Everyone comes into town for that holiday. It is Cayucos' biggest holiday with about 30,000 cramming the streets and beaches. There is a wonderfully quaint parade that starts at 10 am.
When Steve and I decided to move here we rented a house while waiting for ours to be sold ( I don't recommend that). We came down whenever we could on three day weekends, taking vacation days as well. It was wonderful to start getting to know people who lived here. As the months passed and we were "reducing, reducing" the asking price in Mill
Valley and nothing was happening, I thought I would have to give the rental company a 30 day notice on the beach house and give it up. I was heartbroken that we would miss July 4th. I woke up one night and realized that 30 days didn't necessarily mean June 1. I could hold out until June 15 and still get to use it for the July 4th celebration. We came down over the Father's Day weekend expecting it to be one of the last trips before moving our stuff back up north. Our realtor called and said they had an offer on Carolyn Lane. We got mildly excited as an offer didn't mean it was sold. I tore up the 30 day notice, however, just knowing it was meant to be that we would soon be residents of Cayucos, California- population 1800 full timers and another 1800 part timers.
Things were progressing pretty well with the sale, the people loved our house. They had two small children and already had the bedrooms picked out for everyone. As any of you know when selling a house these days, the " Home Inspectors" can be the deal breakers. We had a doozy. He made up flaws, like for instance, there wasn't any flashing between the deck and the house. Duh! I got up on a milk crate and showed the broker that there was indeed flashing all the way around. He said we didn't have a working sump pump when he never even turned it on! The killer was that he said the entire "random brick" wall that was the charm of our house had to be replaced. The buyers were devastated. Fortunately the Nuns from St. Joseph's in Rochester, NY were praying for us courtesy of my brother Bobby's generosity and requests. Both Real Estate agents worked for the same firm and called for a second inspection. The buyers brought in their own inspector. The brick wall stayed as it was THE supporting wall of the house.They determined it only had to have the wooden beams which had been nibbled upon by beatles,treated, again (we already had them treated). We updated the outlet to GSF for the sump pump, flashing was there and we negotiated for monies to fix the old retaining wall. Meanwhile my garden was in full bloom with veges and flowers. The buyers loved that.
While this was all unfolding the 4th of July was upon us. Kitties went to the "Cat's Cradle" for the weekend and we were up and out at 5:30 am. Smooth sailing down 101...almost. Steve and another car were clipping right along when a CHP car on the other side made a U-turn and got us. The other car got away. We handed him all of the documents you need to have in the glove compartment and he asked us where we were headed etc. He goes back to his car and within 2 minutes is back. HE GAVE STEVE A WARNING!!!
WELCOME TO THE CENTRAL COAST. We were ecstatic to say the least, so much so that Steve almost turned right on red when the sign clearly stated not to do so. Finally Old Creek Rd was upon us...only 11 miles to our sweet house. Steve was so proud of making it in 3 1/2 hours when it usually takes 4. The house was up from the ocean with spectacular views of the Morro Rock and the Cayucos Pier. When we opened the doors to the deck there was a huge party going on below us. It was 9 AM and people had beers in their hands plus as I soon found out, Bloody Marys. We didn't know when the parade started or where it started so we just bounced out the door and headed in the party direction with our beers so we would blend in.
As we found out the floats line up on Pacific Ave and the parade starts at 6th 10 am. Everyone was walking in the direction of the Pier. Our destination was Schooner's Wharf, a restaurant/bar that we had been going to since we found this town. As we turned the corner onto Ocean Ave. we gasped at the sight. They string red,white and blue balloons in arches over the street all the way down to the pier. In years to come we got recruited to help string these balloons. This meant getting up at 5am and walking into town with our friends. We then took the huge strings of balloons out of the Vets hall and walked down Ocean where a local guy had a lift to carry the string up to the phone pole or tree or windowsill and attach it to each side of the street. We gave that up after a few years!

Everyone decorates the heck out of their businesses and houses. There were chairs lined up on both sides of the street. It was so beauty! When we got to Schooner's the new owners, Troy and Donovan, who bought it from Troy's father, are cousins and were tending bar. They cleared out all of the tables and chairs to get ready for the crowds. We told Troy about the warning given us by the kind CHP officer and he couldn't believe it, so much so that he bought us our Bloody Marys. What fun. We stood outside and watched the parade, laughing at the different groups strolling down Ocean Ave. One of the huge floats, an American Eagle decked out in the American Flag happen to be two doors down from our house. They were members of a car club from Bakersfield. Most of the people with second homes here are from the Bakersfield or Fresno areas. This town was built up by the local Community Church that encouraged people to escape the heat in the Central Valley and build beach homes and support the church. It is still in existence and has wonderful presence here.
After the parade we decided to grab a hotdog to go and walk back home on the beach. Very smart idea! We stopped to view the many sand sculptures. These are built very early in the morning according to the tide and are very elaborate. They get judged and "ribboned". One of the many quaint traditions. As we looked up Ocean Ave there were throngs of people heading our way so we boogied down the beach towards home.
It is the same every year whether it is cloudy or sunny.
This year started out cloudy and became sunny by noon. What a difference 9 years makes. We now know quite a few people and always meet them at Schooner's for Bloody Mary's and Beers. The cousins have since sold the restaurant but the new owners are really nice and carrying on the tradition of a fun time on the 4th.
We moved into our own home in a 55+ park 7 years ago. We still have ocean views, a bigger and better deck and are still within walking distance of town.
Our neighbors in the park have BBQ's or some other sort of foodie party throughout the summer. This is just fine with me. I used to cook every single 4th. Since we had parking, which is at a premium this holiday, people loved to come over to our place. Pretty soon everyone, locally was too wasted to appreciate the well planned affair I invited them to, so I quit. Now we just drift around with the rest of them bringing a dish if asked or else wine and beer.
If we are lucky it is clear when they shoot off the fireworks as it was this year. It is quite a show with a few renegade firecrackers and fireworks to boot. If it is not clear you can hear them and not see one spark. You take your chances with the Cayucos 4th of July fireworks but I wouldn't miss it for anything.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Our Obsession with Mexican Food part I.

I was sitting in my high school World Geography class, probably before lunchtime,watching a film on Mexico.  The narrator was talking about the foods cooked and eaten by the people of that country. There was a Mexican woman patting out flat pieces of dough, which turned out to be tortillas, and placing them on a hot piece of metal over a fire.  They looked so good!  Better yet, she filled them with beans, not Campbell's pork and beans but some other pink bean, rolled them up and took a bite. I was in heaven watching that. The closest thing I could think to do was to flatten out some Wonder Bread, spread aforementioned pork and beans onto it and smoosh it together.  That was pretty good. My brother Bob liked bean sandwiches too.  I soon forgot all about that film and quit eating bean sandwiches.
We had no exposure to Mexican style food other than my girlfriend down the street in our little town whose father was from Spain.  Her mother used to cook such exotic foods and the whole house smelled different. I now know it was olive oil, sofrito, sausages, rice and different stews.  My girlfriend's complexion was amazing. We used to hang out in her rec room listening to the Beatles first albums and just die over Paul and George while her Mom cooked. I never tasted anything but the smells were good.

I met Steve, my now husband, in Chicago and took a chance by driving across the country in his 1968 Porsche Targa. We trusted everyone in the 60's. My girlfriend introduced us and I had my student airline fare of $90. that I turned in for the cash he was eyeing for gas money. At the end of our trip he dropped me off in San Diego where my girlfriend, Janet had rented an apartment for us.  We wanted to live at the beach but the summer season wasn't quite over yet.  It was kind of fun to be in downtown San Diego in those days.  You walked everywhere and Balboa Park wasn't far.  We took the bus out to the beach every weekend to search for a place to rent after Labor Day.  In the meantime we cooked at home with our limited knowledge of how to cook.  I liked to experiment with recipes out of magazines.  Things like Pork chops with peaches which brought gales of laughter from Janet and Steve when he was visiting.  There was a Taco Bell near us.  I couldn't pronounce one Spanish word.  Not knowing the "ll" was silent(ya, not L) or the "a" was a short "a" (ah not A) made for some very interesting comments from the natives of San Diego especially those from La JoeLLa.
Janet and I decided to try a "taco" at the drive thru ie we walked thru the Taco Bell.  It was basically a crispy shell with ground beef, pretty good but where was the ketchup?  I absolutely could not eat one without ketchup for along time. Loved them that way, with chopped onions, tomatoes, peppers and ketchup.

Enter Steve as my live in boyfriend.  He had been exposed to tacos in Chicago by a man who worked for his Father, Herb, when they were Fuller Brush  salesmen. Chicago has a large Hispanic population from Jalisco. It was a direct route for the brown heroin trade.  As bad as that is, they brought with them their wonderful cuisine. He knew about salsa, shredded beef, crispy tortillas and absolutely loved them.  I guess I better figure out how to make them, I thought.  It was easy enough to get the ingredients and I had my California neighbors who were experts to teach me.  Sandi Kingery was my mentor in all things California.  We still tended to use ground beef but she brought the chopped veges into the mix as well as guacamole, shredded cheese and sour cream.  Once my palate adjusted to Bottled Mexican Hot Sauce I abandoned the ketchup, plus my then sister in law, Judy Benson would make fun of me all of the time. She made the most incredible tacos and we had mucho cervezas  and margaritas to accompany them.

Basic 1960'sTacos-
1 # Ground Beef
1 pkg. Lawry's Taco Seasoning
    Saute meat in a skillet until browned.  Add seasoning and water according to package directions.
1 pkg. yellow corn tortillas (we didn't have white ones back then)
Heat oil in a saucepan and fry tortillas until limp, using tongs, fold over and continue frying until crispy.  Drain on paper towels.

Shredded yellow cheddar cheese ( Longhorn or  Medium sharp)
Chopped onions
Shredded iceberg lettuce
Chopped tomatoes
Chopped radishes ( a bartender friend turned us on to this ingredient)
Sour Cream
Hot Sauce


We have come a long way from those days.  I do think alot of people still think these are tacos and little kids love them. My friend Rosa first introduced shredded beef into our lives.  She knew Mexican food from being raised in San Diego and traveling to Tijuana and beyond often.  Her recipe for "String Beef" is still on the same paper I jotted it down on when we worked in the Stock Broker's office in downtown San Diego, I a teletype operator and she a secretary.

Rosa's String Beef
1 1/2 lbs. stewing beef cut into 2# chunks
1 tsp. chile powder
1/2 tsp. cumin powder
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 onion, chopped
   Toss everything together in a saucepan and cover with water (not too much just to cover). Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook 1 1/2-2 hrs. until meat shreds. 
Using two forks, shred meat and keep warm for tacos.

Along with going more authentic with the taco filling we found a shop on India Street at Grape where the women made hand patted tortillas. You had to get there early on the day they were made.There is absolutely nothing better than the smell of fresh hand patted tortillas.  To this day we search them out but unfortunately they come from Trader Joe's or Whole Foods so you don't get that smell.  Rosa and I used to go to another taqueria called El Indio on India street. They made the best taquitos, chips and beans. We used to take them out and eat them in her little Carmenguia (sp) car on our lunch break. There were a few other authentic mexican restaurants that we ate at including El Fonda. There I was exposed to enchiladas, tostadas, burritos and chile colorado, a red chile stew.  Our favorite place was actually up in Solana Beach in the "Garden District" which had many Mexican restaurants including The Blue Bird Cafe, Tony's and Fidels.  Fidels was the most popular.  We had machaca which is eggs and shredded beef in Flour tortillas, Steve loved Tostada Supreme which was a huge tortilla filled with meat and salad, my favorite was Fidels baked burrito.  I still make those today. Sometimes they fried them in which case they were "chimichangas".  I tried to copy these dishes with moderate success.  Let's say I didn't have the heavy "lard" hand that the cooks at Fidels did.
Sunset Magazine was another source of recipes.  They even put out a paperback Mexican Cookbook which I still have. Chile Rellenos was the one thing I learned to make from that book as well as the Salsa Ranchero that I use for many things. The taquitos on the cover always inspired me to get cooking. Jalepenos were pretty much the only chile available.  I didn't know anything about dried chiles in those days.
       Here is my latest version of Fidel's baked burritos filled with refriend beans, cheese and chile verde.
Topped with sauteed red and yellow peppers as well as onions. I made a little salsa to go with these.

Steve and I moved to Chicago, as I have mentioned in previous posts, with a good repertoire of California-Mexican recipes, techniques and my subscription to Sunset magazine.  Soon we were very popular for our Mexican dinner parties. I found the Hispanic areas where the Super Mercado's carried all sorts of ingredients. Everyone loved to give us a ride to these places knowing they would be the lucky recipients of one of my dinners.  One friend, Mary Housman, told me about Diana Kennedy a Brit living in Mexico writing cookbooks and teaching cooking classes.  Mary was an enthusiastic cook as well.  We bought Diana's first book, "The Tortilla Book" and started experimenting with the recipes. I learned how to make Salsa Fresca, adding a little red wine vinegar when the tomatoes weren't quite ripe enough. We found cilantro sold at the local grocer "Treasure Island" but it was sold by the sprig practically and wasn't often available.  That is where the Hispanic grocers came in.  I remember the first time I found fresh tomatillos. They were so cute in their papery husks.  I loved them raw as they reminded me of rhubarb.  The dried  chiles fascinated me too. Soon Diana Kennedy came to Chicago for a series of classes.  Mary and I signed up and were beside ourselves with excitement.  They were held at the Cook's Mart store run by Pat Bruno.  He carried all sorts of cool cookware and cookbooks. When Diana arrived in Chicago she had already written another "serious" cookbook  " The Cuisines of Mexico" .  This is the book she used for her classes. It opened the floodgates for what would become my future career.  We took tours in the Mexican markets learning about all sorts of dried chiles, cheeses, meats and vegetables.  I learned how to make proper salsas using those cute tomatillos.  The blender was our friend as well as the flat comal to toast them on.

To escape the wicked cold Chicago winters our friends traveled to Mexico. PuertaVallarta was the hot place then followed by Cabo San Lucas.  I loved it down there. Everyone else went for the tequila, cervezas and beaches.  I would seek out the markets and hardware stores where I found my tortilla presses, comal and numerous casuelas or casseroles.  Diana showed us the proper "ollas" for cooking beans and poaching chickens. I loved the carved wooden spoons and still have a collection of small and large ones. My little bowls for salsas, guacamole and chopped veges are still used whenever I cook Mexican.

Diana Kennedy was very fastidious.  You counted out the black peppercorns and cumin seeds before grinding them in the coffee grinder saved specifically for grinding spices. I was like a sponge absorbing all of her recipes and techniques. I wanted her to sign my books and she immediately went into a tirade about getting book covers so I didn't tear the book jacket, pointing out a wrinkle in the Tortilla Book. Yes ma am! Needless to say Mary and I were cooking up a storm much to our husbands and friends delight.  Diana was almost as big as Julia Child and James Beard. Craig Claiborne from the New York Times endorsed her and promoted her in New York where she had an apartment.  She continued to come back to Chicago and teach using the new books she had written.  We advanced from tacos and enchiladas to stews, soups, moles, tamales and many interesting little antojitos.
Here is one of my all time favorite dips based on a recipe from Diana Kennedy's "Recipes from the Regional Cooks of Mexico".

                                  Green Pumpkin seed Dip or Sikil-P'ak
1 1/2 Pepitas or green hulled pumpkin seeds
1 serrano chile or other hot chile of choice(habenero ,if you dare, is traditional)
2 med. tomatoes
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp. chopped chives
2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro

In a skillet toast pumpkin seeds until they are lightly brown and begin to swell and pop. Transfer to a plate to cool off.  Meanwhile either on a comal or in the same skillet, toast the chile and tomatoes until they are blistered with black spots.
Using your trusty coffee grinder for spices only, grind pumpkin seeds in batches with the salt until it is a coarse powder.  Scrape into a bowl. Stir in the tomatoes, chives, cilantro and toasted chile.
It should be creamy not dry.  Add a little water if it is not spreadable.

Another great tip to accompany this recipe is to toast your tortillas in the oven instead of deep frying them.  Just heat the oven to 350* and lay the tortillas on the oven racks. After about 5 minutes turn them over. Bake another 5-8 minutes until they are golden and crisp. Don't let them go too far or they will burn.  Break them up into pieces and serve with Sikil-P'ak!

I always have a bowl of Salsa Fresca on hand too:
Dice 1 tomato into small dice
Chop 1/4 white onion
Chop 1 hot chile, I now  use Serranos and maybe use more if they aren't hot enough.
Chop a few sprigs cilantro
  Mix all together in a bowl.  Add about 1/2 tsp red wine vinegar, 1/4 tsp. salt or to taste and 1-2 Tbsp. water.   Don't make it too far in advance or the tomatoes get limp. 
I never serve it the next day preferring to add it to other dishes and cook it down.

Diana Kennedy would be and still is in my culinary life.  She still teaches both in Mexico at her "Casa" or up here in the U.S. Look for Part II of this blog for more on my journey with her.