Thursday, February 19, 2015

Cava Sautto Wine Fest: Discovering Reds


When Cava Sautto (Hernandez Macias 59) throws a wine fest, they bring in the best brands. 


Reserve wines were in abundance as well as high end liquors like Hennessy, Dewar's, Bacardi, Johnny Walker, Herradura, Chevas Regal, Bruxo, Grey Goose and other leading labels.


I happen to think this is one of San Miguel de Allende’s best festivals and the deal of the year. For 300 pesos, you sample any of the wines or liquors featured at the event. At the end of the night, take your ticket stub into Cava Sautto and you get a $200 peso credit against any bottle in the store. 

After exchanging my ticket, this $250 peso bottle of Casa Madero Merlot was just $50 pesos.


That also means you drink and dance all afternoon and evening for 100 pesos. 


Highly visible? A lot of two fisted drinkers.


There were more Canadians and Americans in attendance this year and a large number of Mexico City's see-and-be-seen crowd. The turnout was triple of what it was last year.

I'm not a wine expert but I know what I like and I'm spirited when I run across something new.


For years, I've attempted to become a red wine drinker having tried many varieties from Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhône in France; Piedmont and Tuscany in Italy; and California's Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley. I've never been successful at finding a bottle of red that I like until now. In fact, I was captivated by all of the Casa Madero reds.

My favorite? Casa Grande Cabernet Sauvignon, a surprise because I've always considered Cabernet to be too full-bodied and heavy for my taste. 

Casa Madero, by the way, is the first official wine estate in Mexico, founded in 1597 in Coahuila in Valle de Parras. I’ve also marked my calendar to go to the Parras Valley in the fall for the annual grape harvest called la vendimia.


Another red that I loved? Le Chetto's Don Luis.


Liquors? I've always disliked the small and taste of gin so another great reveal was Gracias a Dios Ginebra de Agave, made from Mezcal, that was so incredibly smooth we savored the taste between the oohs and aahs of "I can't believe this is gin." This preview special will be available for sale in the next few months.


While you’re in Hotel Sautto, don’t forget to try the magnificent food in the hotel’s Italian restaurant, Bacco. Everything is fresh and created from the best ingredients. I always order the Amatriciana, made with fresh tomatoes and smoked pancetta for just 100 pesos. It’s big enough to split or have for a second meal.

Cava Sautto also does a highly celebrated rum festival in November. You can watch the video from both events running on the feed inside Cava Sautto.

Mark your calendar for next year. You'll discover a lot of new selections for celebrating life’s special moments...

like another perfect day in San Miguel.


Salud and Buen Apetito!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

No Time for Comida

Why is it I retired last year, have three jobs and am back on a work schedule? 

In the US and Canada, we eat around our work schedule but here in Mexico, people work around their eating schedule. 

I've easily adapted to eating two meals a day instead of three. I've also lost twenty pounds since I've been here. Not sure why because I enjoy my fair share of San Miguel's best. 

I eat healthy most mornings. My usual is the yogurt, fruit, and granola plate at Hotel Matilda. It's still the best deal in town served on white china and dished up with a view of the pool. It's hard to believe that you can still eat a meal this good for 55 pesos at one of the best hotels in town.

When you're busy and don't have time for the pleasure of a comida, my favorite and sometimes only social meal of the day, I'll eat something more substantial for breakfast and then hit the taco cart at night.

Here are some of my favorite places for an AM meal that will stick with you throughout the day. 

Comida tomorrow? Of course. No one should work on Friday!

Bon Apetit.

Lavanda Cafe
Hernandez Marcias # 87

One of my favorite restaurants just keeps on getting better.

The great thing about Lavanda? It's consistent. I've had at least a dozen meals here and all of them have been praiseworthy.

Here is a new look at Karla's beautiful Huevos Rancheros, one of the most popular dishes on the menu. 

Every entrée will carry you through the day if you happen to be hard at work instead of outside playing in the sunshine like you should be.

Most meals are under 100 pesos and served with a large glass of fresh squeezed juice. Green juice +8 pesos and super healthy.

Breakfast just doesn't get any better than this. 

El Rincon de Don Tomas
Jardin, Portal de Guadalupe 2, Centro

Located in the Jardin, catch a seat outside and watch San Miguel come alive though you wouldn't get breakfast until they open at 8:30 AM.

I love SMA mornings and this place has two things going for it...people watching and Huevos Otomi, a hearty bowl of scrambled eggs in a bean stew. 

It will remind you that food doesn't have to be fancy to be good. This one pot meal will warm you up on a cold February morning when hibernating isn't an option. 

Cafe Oso Azul
Zacateros 17, Centro

Jens and Bo are the perfect hosts at this little cafe in Centro. It looks typically Scandinavian with its white walls and blue-washed wooden tables and chairs. You might think for a minute you're in Denmark. Grab a spot at the communal table in the courtyard and order up the house favorite… Huevos Mexicanas that are perfectly cooked with tomatoes, onions and peppers in a miniature cast iron skillet. Top off with an order of delicious homemade sausage. Savor the flavor, aroma, and full- body of their coffee that is organically grown in Veracruz by Bo's family. Call it exquisite with a dusting of Mexican chocolate.

Mama Mia
Umaran #8

Mama Mia's has been around for a long time and has a legion of loyal fans. I wasn't one of them until their breakfast special gave me a reason to revisit some old Italian flavors. 

This is what I would call a man-sized meal although I know plenty of women who can polish off this Mexican-style colazione in a single sitting.

Better than any Italian-in-her-next-life dreams about for sustenance, this platter is set on a bed of undercooked hash browns, topped with fried eggs and smothered in a pile of sunday gravy complete with mexican sausage.


You wouldn't miss the pasta at this Italian restaurant but you'll crave a glass of Chianti. Who wouldn't expect wine for breakfast with a meal like this?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Claudia’s Pies: The Sweet Smell of Success


There is nothing quite like the smell of pies baking in the oven…

Don’t ask me how I got the bug. One morning, a latent gene kicked in; I started baking and never stopped. It was though I had been doing it all my life. Everything I made turned out perfect.

Then I moved to Mexico…


I've taken high altitude baking classes but I’ve yet to make a respectable pan of popovers or cornbread or anything for that matter. I’ve added flour, decreased sugar, cut my butter and still haven’t figured out the formula. So last year, I bought rather than made a lemon meringue pie.


I never liked lemon meringue but this one was beautiful and like every other American in San Miguel, I was going through lemon withdrawal. This pie was so artistic, especially the layer of light and almost fluffy meringue on top. I was hooked on just one bite.

Later in the year, I met the master architect, Claudia. You have likely eaten one of her pies at some of the better restaurants around town.


Claudia recently invited me into her kitchen for an afternoon of baking where I quickly discovered that she has something I never did...a passion for baking.  It’s the heart and soul of who she is.


She also uses quality ingredients, makes everything by hand, from scratch and delivers it fresh.


She first started making pies with her German born great uncle Jimmy when she was just 7 years old. She spent her summers in LA and hung out in his kitchen for something to do. She developed a love of baking early on just like Dulce, her assistant Caro's daughter, who is also 7. 


Dulce, who couldn't make a pie 6 months ago, now makes them with her eyes closed.


Claudia started out with just 10 pie molds so imagine how crazy her kitchen was the first time she got an order for 40. At that time, she was baking in a tiny, indoor kitchen.
About a year ago, Claudia's brother-in-law Servando, who owns La Antojeria de la Casona de los Cinco Patios  in Querétaro and Restaurant San Miguelito in Querétaro and Morelia gave her a new kitchen. It's a beautiful, stand-alone space; a fully equipped, professional kitchen. 

The walls are filled with chalk art done by her 19 year old daughter Fernanda who is a teacher and like many people in SMA, an aspiring artist.


Her son Luis Miguel will also give her a hand when things get hectic which is pretty much all the time these days.

She has a broad base of clients who not only love her pies but also her personal brand of service. 

Word of mouth marketing has worked well for Claudia. I know after having that lemon meringue pie last year because the pie is now in high demand. Consider yourself lucky if you happen to get one before Claudia runs out of lemons.

She credits her vendors and swears her magic is in the fresh ingredients she uses.

Although she didn't give away any of the trade secrets locked away in her head, she opened my eyes to a new list of what I can get locally in order to produce better results in my kitchen.

Now, if only she could do something about the altitude!

Buen Apetito!


Butter

Your grandmother used lard, your mom used shortening but Claudia uses butter. 

This single ingredient makes or breaks a pie crust. 

My favorite back in the states was Kerrygold from Ireland. I started using it because they were one of my clients but soon discovered it produced really excellent pies.

Here in Mexico, Claudia uses local butters from Remo’s, Querétaro Highway, Km. 3, Flor de Alfalfa in Querétaro (the organic ranch La Hondonada is where the Flor de Alfalfa dairy products are produced) and Los Rehiletes at Ancha de San Antonio 57-A, Centro.

Cold butter is essential for things like pie crusts and biscuits so make sure your butter is cold. She prepares it for creaming by cutting it into chunks. If it takes the imprint of a finger when lightly pressed, it is ready to be worked.

She swears that an all-butter crust is so much lighter and the flakes are more defined. 

Me? I happen to love the taste. 


Flour

Flour does make a difference but not as much as you think. While most of us are searching high and low for Gold Metal flour, Claudia uses one that is called espuma Chapala.


Working the Dough

Some people swear putting vodka in the crust (which makes me wonder why no one has tried tequila) makes it roll out better but Claudia uses ice cold water and only mixes the ingredients until they come together by pulsing it in her food processor. Nothing is quite as consistent at cutting fat into flour than a food processor.

She also chills the dough for at least an hour. This gives the gluten time to relax and becomes more elastic so it's easier to roll out. 

On the chef's table, use just enough flour to keep it from sticking, but not so much that it alters the make-up of the dough.


Cheese

Claudia loves to play with flavors and has added a line of very popular quiches to her menu. She uses Gruyere, Feta, Provolone, Mascarpone and Goat Cheese to create them.

She buys the cheese from Remo’s, Querétaro Highway, Km. 3. and Los Rehiletes at Ancha de San Antonio 57-A, Centro.


Fillings

One of the vendors that Claudia buys fruit from is Leo, the vegetable guy from Celaya who is in front of Panadería El Maple and is one of my favorite purveyors of fresh-picked products.

Savor those blueberry pies the next time you eat them because chances are a mystery woman named Atala from Michoacán supplied the blueberries which are more difficult to secure and even more expensive.

Many of her vegetables are from the organic farms that surround San Miguel. She always looks for the freshest produce available so she hand picks it herself.

Today, we are making Guava, Apple, Pear, Blueberry, and Strawberry. 

Fortunately for Claudia this order is for a customer so no chance of me hijacking a few of them on my way out. 



You can order Claudia’s pies by calling 415-151-0146 or emailing her at campanita1985@live.com.