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