Monday, December 23, 2013

San Miguel is in the news again!

On page 30 in the December 27th issue of The Week, San Miguel de Allende was again revered as the best destination city to visit.  And I totally agree.  After a 40 some year romance of the town, I never can get enough of it.  Everything about the town is magical, especially over Christmas.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Pumpkin Cheesecake - light and decadent at the same time

As promised, below is the recipe for the cheesecake that I had made for Thanksgiving dessert. It was a huge hit.  One friend after seeing this photo on my previous post called to ask me if there was any left in the refrigerator.  If so, she would be right over!

For the crust
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/2  cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

For the filling
1 1/2 cups pumpkin
3  large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, softened and cut into pieces 
1 /2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon

For the topping
2 cups sour cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon bourbon

16 pecan halves for garnish

Crust:  In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients and then add the  butter.  Grease the sides and bottom of the spring form pan with butter.  Press the mixture into the bottom and half way up the sides of a 9" spring form pan.  Chill the crust for an hour.

Filling:  Whisk the pumpkin, eggs, spices, salt and brown sugar together in a large bowl.  In another large bowl, with an electric mixer, cream the cream cheese and granulated sugar.  Beat in the cream, cornstarch, vanilla, bourbon, and pumpkin mixture.  Beat until smooth.
Pour into the crust and bake in a 350 oven for 50 to 55 minutes, or until the center is just set.  Cool the pan on a rack for about ten minutes.

Topping:  Whisk together the sour cream, sugar and bourbon.  Spread over the top of the cheesecake and back for 5 minutes.

Cooking Tips:   Let all the ingredients come to room temperature.  Do not over cook the cheesecake.  Fill a baking pan half way up with water.  Put this pan on the rack below rack where you will put the cheesecake.  Bake the cheesecake in the middle of the oven.  Cook it for exactly 50 minutes.  Turn off the oven, open the door and let the cheesecake rest in the oven for about 20 minutes.  Once out of the oven, run a knife around the sides to insure the sides do not stick to the sides.  

Let the cheesecake cool on a rack.  Garnish with the pecan halves.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Serves 16.

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Great feast on Thanksgiving Day!

Thanksgiving was extra special this year, my parents are living in Denver now and they were part of the festivities.  I had fun setting the table and getting ready for the big day.
A few turkeys (and I am not talking about my guests) and chickens graced my table. I had either bought them in Oaxaca or San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. 
To make my life easier and get people out of the kitchen, I set up a bar in the dining room. The big black tray was made in my friend's (Guadalupe) taller in San Miguel.  It's the perfect piece for something like this. 
Earlier in the week (Monday) I bought a piece of fresh center-cut salmon.  I rubbed it with Maldon sea salt and brown sugar.   I ground up some juniper berries and fresh pepper using my marble mortar and pestle.  I drizzled the salmon with Aquavit (a favorite Scandinavian liquor).  Then rubbed in the ground juniper berries and pepper followed by freshly grated lime zest.  It was wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and weighted down with a heavy skillet in the refrigerator until I was ready to slice (almost parallel to the fish) the salmon and served it with creme fraiche, caper, minced red onion and toast points.
I selected hors d'oeuvres that were not too heavy but rather light.  The next one I served were crudites (sliced pieces of jicama, red and yellow pepper and carrot) standing up in small Mexican glasses with a roasted red pepper, roasted garlic and white bean dip.  Those glasses are used often for so many things in my kitchen.  I just love them.

The third appetizer was an endive leaf with Gorgonzola dolce topped with diced red beets, candied walnuts (with just a hint of cayenne) and chopped chives.  Really refreshing.
A butternut soup has always been on the menu at my friend's Kathy's house but I wanted to mix it up a little.  A few years ago, I spent the weekend making three different kinds of ravioli.  All recipes that I had created from scratch (the one above, "arugula, pine nut and goat cheese" and "duck confit ravioli with morels"). A  few weeks ago I roasted some butternut squash and garlic in preparation of making raviolis the next day.  I served one butternut squash ravioli with a brown butter sauce that had chopped pistachios, a crumbled amaretto cookie and chopped sage in my espresso cups along with some vintage spoons that were from my Dad's mother's collection.  How fun was that!
Again, the salad dressing was made in advance.  I had reduced some pomegranate and apple juice to a syrupy consistency.   Once cool, whisked in some chopped thyme, red wine vinegar, finely chopped shallots, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  The salad itself consisted of arugula, finely sliced fennel, blue cheese, pomegranite seeds and some of the candied walnuts that I had used on the endive appetizer.
We had all the fixings for a big Thanksgiving feast:  stuffing, cranberries that had some orange juice and zest in them along with a little brandy, turkey, sweet potatoes, gravy, brussel sprouts and some yukon gold potato nests that proved to be a big winner.
Sorry I did not get a close up photo of them (they are on the blue oval plate above the turkey).  I have had numerous requests for the recipe....  What a time saver this is and it can be prepped way in advance!

Yukon Gold Potato Nests  -  makes around 16 nests
3 lbs. Yukon Gold Potaotes, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large egg yolks
1/3 cup heavy cream
ground nutmeg

In a large pot, cover potatoes with 2" of water.  Bring to boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until tender (about 15 minutes).  Drain in a colander.
Put the potatoes through a ricer.  

Add the butter, egg yolks, cream, nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper that has been slightly buttered. 
Dollop 1/3" cup of the potato mixture onto the paper, about 2" apart.  Using a back of a spoon or your finger,  make a small well in the center of the potato dollop.
Freeze until firm.  Transfer to a zip-lock bag and keep in the freezer.
To serve:
If desired, brush "nests" with a mix of an egg yolk and a little cream.
Bake in a 400' oven for 20 - 25 minutes.  Serve with butter and/or gravy.
(this is a perfect potato recipe - when the prime rib or turkey is resting, the potato nest can be cooking.)

To end the meal, I had made a decadent, rich Pumpkin, Bourbon and Pecan Cheesecake.  Served that with some lovely Spanish Cava.  What a great meal.  
I will post the Cheesecake recipe in a few days, so stay tuned.  It's light and a little of it goes a long way. It would be great for a Christmas dinner dessert too.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Tlayuda, a signature Oaxacan antojito!

Tlayuda is a signature Oaxacan antojito (snacks made of corn dough).  Tlayuda (or clayuda) is a large well-cooked tortilla spread with asiento, black bean paste, quesillo, sliced avocados, shredded lettuce or cabbage, tomato and decorated with a beautiful big radish and then toasted on a comal or grill.  Asiento is the small pieces rendered pork that have settled in the bottom of the pot after cooking chicharron (pork rind double fried until crisp).  Quesillo is Oaxacan string cheese.   It is a long ribbon of cheese that is wrapped into a ball.
I was at the Friday market in Ocotlan which is about a 45 minute drive from Oaxaca City.  I just could not resist ordering a Tlayuda with the works from these two ladies. Their table was filled with tempting food but the Tlayuda was what I was after.  It hit the spot.
At one of the entries of the market, women were lined up with bags filled with Tlayudas.  A much finer ground corn meal is used in making the Tlayudas than what we find in our corn tortillas.
A stack of the Tlayudas for sell in the Benito Juarez market right in the heart of the historic center of Oaxaca City.
At one of my favorite restaurants in Oaxaca, Origen on Calle Hidalgo 820.  Before ordering, our waiter brought was a basket of beautiful Tlayudas along with a spicey, creamy pepper spread.  Tlayudas certainly are addictive!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween !

When Len and I were in Rome at the Hotel de Russie just off the Piazza de Popolo, the lobby had the most wonderful carved pumpkin display.  Don't you just love his hair and his funny mouth?
A very clever arrangement.
Great eyes!

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Dia de Los Muertos

In the August/September 2013 issue of AFAR Magazine, there was this photo of a costumed girl in Oaxaca, Mexico carrying the traditional marigolds during a Dia de los Muertos children's parade that I thought was just spectacular.  I just had to share.
Next year, expect to see my photos!

Monday, October 21, 2013

An Oxacan Adventure !

I spent a magical week in Oaxaca with a great group of people.  My "Oaxacan Adventure" is just some of my favorite images from the city and the surrounding areas.  Enjoy.




Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Twenty-five years ago Len and I were married on October 15, 1988.  I made a photo book for him which includes some of our favorite memories.  Love you Len!  Here's to another  twenty-five years and many more.

Monday, October 7, 2013

La Comida, a new Mexican Restaurant in Denver

The Source, at 3350  Brighton Boulevard in Denver recently opened in the RiNo (River North) district.  The building was formerly a 19th century foundry that has been converted into a space featuring two restaurants and smaller store fronts selling artisan products - meats, cheeses, breads and pastries, wine and other spirits, coffee, imported gourmet items and local produce.
My husband and I tried the upscale taqueria, Comida (meaning mid-day meal in Spanish).  The menu features small plates representing street food found around Mexico.  The spaces are divided by using aluminium 2 x 4's and creating an industrial feel.  It really work well in that it defines the space but also allows one could see beyond the restaurant into the public areas and other store fronts.  Weather permitting, the front windows are large glass and metal garage doors that can be opened.
I tried the Agua de Jamaica Margarita.  A combination of agua de Jamaica (fresh hibiscus water), tequila, agave, orange, lemon and lime.  It was refreshing but a bit too much ice and not enough drink.
The guacamole was very tasty with a bit a heat served with some perfectly freshly fried corn tortillas.  An aficionado of guacamole, I found the lime juice a tad over powering.
Your order is served family style.  The open face tacos above were Stellas Pork Carnitas (slow cooked pork shoulder with smoked Gouda and sweet potato mash - I had them hold the pineapple habanero salsa - not a fan of pineapple) and Camarones a la Diablo (spicy shrimp over jalapeno grits with pico de gallo salsa, avocado, lime, house crema and cotija).
The Griddled Tacos on the top of the plate were two Bacon and Jalapeno, a Stella Pork Carnita and a Roasted Chicken.  The pork Carnita, Camarones and Bacon were the most flavorful.
Len had one last small plate, the Chorizo and Onion Gordita.  A delicious combination of chorizo and red onion escabeche with roasted garlic mash and salsa verde.  The chorizo was perfectly seasoned and not greasy at all.
The service was fast and it is only minutes from downtown.  Next time I plan on trying one of their quesadillas and the Raja Gordita. 
Buen Provecho!

La Comida
Open daily - 11am - 10pm.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Tunas and I am not talking about fish!

Since I have been on a roll lately about figs, I thought I would feature Tunas!
The tuna is the small pear shaped fruit which grow on the ends of the paddles (nopales) of the Prickly Pear cactus.  The Spanish invaders called them "Figs of Indies".  They grow in a variety of colors from bright red, pink, magenta to limey-yellow.  They are found through out Mexico, especially in Jalisco and the central states.  The small acorn shaped red Tuna found in Oaxaca is used to make tuna nieve (cactus fruit sorbet or ice).
One day I was in Europa, a narrow and long store in San Miguel de Allende that sells liquor, wine and gourmet food items.  There were two young, pretty gals wearing sashes over their short dresses that read "Liquor de Tuna" and they were handing out samples.  I had to laugh at many of the gringos that curled up their nose of the thought of drinking tuna (fish) liquor!
Ah, viva Mexico.
A street vendor in San Miguel de Allende unloading his tunas for sale.

Several tunas are sweet and can be eaten in many different forms:  simply peeled and eaten seeds and all. A refreshing drink is made called Agua fresca de tuna. There are so many different ways to prepare the tunas and each region has their own special recipe.  Colonche is a beverage made from fermented tunas.  In the state Michoacan, the tunas are skinned and seeds removed before being added raw to a mole de olla.  The skin and seeds are removed for a table salsa and for a desert in Hidalgo.  In San Luis Potosi, the tunas are used as a relish in salads and in broths and moles in Queretaro.
The tunas can be boiled down to make a dense fruit butter called queso de tuna (prickly pear cheese) and cooked to make a taffy like candy called melcocha.  The tuna agria, also known as xoconostle, is acid and somewhat sour is used to lend tartness in some stewed dishes.
If you remember my post on Caramelized Fig Ice Cream (October 18, 2013), you can make the same sauce by substituting the figs with the tunas.
Take care in skinning the tunas, their thorns are as treacherous as the cactus pads.  Cut off both ends and then cut the skin off like would would with an orange.  Cut them into quarters and remove the seeds.  Add them to the caramelized sugar mixture and cook for 15 minutes, stirring often until cooked through.  The tunas will remain crisp-tender.  They will keep for about a week in the syrup.
Serve over vanilla ice cream.  Take note, the flavors are intense so use sparingly.  
Buen Provecho!

FYI - The tunas are available in U.S. grocery stores.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Grilled Peach & Onion Salad

I have been going crazy with all the fresh produce, especially the peaches and figs (as you know from previous posts).  My new favorite salad is Grilled Peach and Onion Salad with caramelized bacon and fresh arugula with a Buttermilk Herb Dressing.

Buttermilk Herb Dressing
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1 2/ cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons chives, chopped
3 tablespoons mint, chopped
3 tablespoons parsley, chopped
2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
(best made a day in advance)

1 lb. center cut thick-sliced bacon
1/4 cup brown sugar
parchment paper
cayenne pepper
3 ounces arugula (about 3 big hand fulls)
3 large Vidalia onions, cut into 3/4" slices, left in tact
3 large peaches, cut into 6 wedges
Olive oil
salt and pepper

Heat oven to 325'.  Line a large cookie sheet with the parchment paper.  Place the bacon slices on the paper, sprinkle with the brown sugar and the cayenne pepper.  Bake for 25 - 30 minutes until caramelized.  Remove from oven and let cool.  As the bacon cools, it will become firm.  Cut bacon with a scissor into 2" pieces.  (I like to set the cookie tray in the sink at an angle so the bacon grease drains off the one end of the cookie sheet into the sink. Don't worry the bacon slices are not going anywhere except for a few bites here and there.)
Brush the onion slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Grill over medium heat, turning occasionally until the slices are browned and softened.
Transfer to a serving dish and separate the slices.
Brush the peaches with olive oil.  Grill over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes, turning once.  Toss with the onions and arugula.  Add the buttermilk dressing and top with the bacon.

The bacon can be done ahead of time and then brought to room temperature. The onions can be made a few hours ahead.

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Caramelized Fresh Fig Ice Cream

A week or so ago I wrote a while about fresh figs and this certainly is the time of year to get them.  For company the other night I made Caramelized Fresh Fig Ice Cream.   And it was out of this world.

I bought two pounds of fig which was about 21 large figs .  They were perfectly ripe to the touch and boy did they taste good.

Caramelized Fresh Fig Ice Cream
(makes 6 cups)
2/3 cup sugar
4 tsp. fresh lemon juice
4 1/2 cups figs, quartered plus more for garnish (about 4 large figs per cup)
4 tsp. butter
1 tsp. Maldon sea salt
2 pints of good vanilla ice cream
In a large skillet, add the sugar, 2 tsp. of lemon juice and 6 tsp. of water.  Mix with a wooden spoon.  Cooking over a high heat, swirl the pan until the sugar starts to caramelize and turns a medium golden brown.  Remove from the heat and add the figs.
Cook over a low heat until the figs start to break down.  Add the butter, salt and remaining lemon juice.  Remove from heat and let cool.
Soften the ice cream at room temperature for about 15 minutes.  Beat it in your mixer with the paddle attachment until smooth.   With a spatula, fold in the fig mixture.  Freeze until ready to serve.
The fig mixture would also be great served slightly warm over a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream.
We actually had the last of the fig ice cream the other night with a scoop of pistachio ice cream and the combination was remarkable.

Finally, a rather obscure writer by the name of Robert J. Hasting passed away a few years ago, but before he did he wrote a short little piece,
"The Station"
I quote in part:  "Sooner or later we realize there is no station, no one place to arrive at. The true joy of life is the trip. It isn't the burdens of today that drive men mad, it is the regrets over yesterday and the fears of tomorrow.  So stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice cream, go barefoot more often, swim more rivers, watch more sunsets, laugh more, cry less.  Life must be lived as we go along.  The station will come soon enough."

I agree, eat more ice cream.  Bon appetit!


Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Moth, not a hummingbird

For the past week we have had a strange little visitor to our garden. He or she has been drinking the nectar from the Obedient plants and the Plumbago in our front yard every afternoon.  My husband thought it was a different looking hummingbird but I said no, it could not be with those antennas.  Well, Len did some research and found out it is a White-lined Sphinx Hummingbird Moth!  
They have a three inch wing span and fly just like a hummingbird, hovering over the flowers and even flying backwards.  I know I would rather see them in my garden in this stage of their life verses their larva or caterpillar stage.

Monday, September 2, 2013

I love fresh Figs

It's that time of year when the figs are to die for.  The above is such an easy and fast appetizer.  A simple way to serve figs is to cut them in half and press your finger in the middle to make a little indentation.  Put some softened goat cheese in the middle and drizzle them with a good Balsamic vinegar. I also like to reduce the same amount of port and Balsamic vinegar and use that over the figs.
Pure heaven.
In the next day or so, check my blog for photos and the recipe for my Fresh Fig Ice Cream.  That is part of my Labor Day  menu.  Well, back to the kitchen.  I need to get the Pistachio Shortbread Cookies in the oven.  I think the cook needs a cookie fresh out of the oven with a cup of coffee.
Wishing everyone a relaxing Labor Day. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Cochineal Bug - An Oaxacan treasure

The Grana Cochinilla Fina, commonly known as simply Cochineal, is a vibrant red dye produced from the female scale insect (Dactylopius Coccus)  that lives on and feeds off the the pads of the Nopal cactus.  The dye is produced after the insects are dried and ground up.  It takes 70,000 insects to make one pound of dye!
Bulmaro Perez Mendoza is showing one of the cactus pads with the Cochineal.  He and his family live in the town of Teotitlan de Valle that is famous in the state of Oaxaca for their hand woven rugs.
Not all Nopal cacti are the home to these insects.  Other Nopal cacti are used in making salads and others produce the sweet red edible fruits known as tunas that are used in syrups, beverages and ice creams.
A huge Nopal cactus in the courtyard of the ex-convent in Ocotlan.
Bulmaro is showing me how he and his family dye the yarns with the Cochineal.  

From 1750 to 1810, Oaxaca was the world capital for its export of Cochineal to other areas of the world: Europe, Asia and Africa.   After gold and silver, this was the next valuable commodity.  It was first shipped to Spain in 1526, just after the conquest and soon became the most popular dye of choice.  The uniforms of the British army were dyed with Cochineal as were the wool coats worn by European royalty.  
Today Cochineal is used in a variety of products:  coloring for lipsticks and makeup (especially for hyper-allergenic cosmetics), pharmaceutical companies for their pills,  some strawberry yogurts, Campari and even some of Campbell's soups.
The dyed yarns are set with a mixture of lime (available in the market as seen above) and water.
In the early 1880's there was a decline in the industry due to the introduction of synthetic dyes.  There has been a resurgence of the use of Cochineal and the weavers of Teotitlan de Valle are going back to using the natural dyes.  In fact, there is a research farm, Tlapanochestli, in Santa Maria Coyotepec, dedicated to the revival of Cochineal.  Visitors are welcome, demonstrations are conducted and there is even a small gift shop where one can purchase Cochineal paint sets, soaps, yarns....  A visit by Prince Charles's to Tlapanochestli is a testament of the continued interest in the history and significance of Cochineal!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Chapulines, an aquired taste

In Oaxaca, Mexico, Chapulines are a very popular delicacy.  Chapulines are toasted grasshoppers.  They are definitely not for the squeamish. Above, these Chapulines were served with a little guacamole.  Packed with enough protein comparable to lean ground beef while having much less fat.  And they contain useful minerals (iron, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium and zinc) and are a good source of fiber.  Even with all these favorable attributes, I am sure it will be tough to convince my friends to try them.  OK, maybe I can.
You can buy them from the street vendors or in one of the many markets.  The Chapulines are collected a certain time of year; from May which is their hatching time to late summer and early fall.  Chapultepec Park, Mexico City's famous landmark, name is derived from Nahuatl meaning "Grasshopper Hill."  It is said that if you eat Chapulines, it is guaranteed that you will return to Oaxaca.  I guess that is true, I did this spring and I am heading back soon!