Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Squash Blossoms at the Farmer's Market in Chicago

                                        Squash Blossoms at the Farmer's Market in San Miguel

Isn't it great to be close to the source of your food?

Buen Apetito!

The Power of the Mariachis

Mariachi music has always had the ability to change my state of mind immediately and make me happy. When I was just 19, I was serenaded for the first time by a group of Mariachi’s under my window at 2 AM. From that moment on, I was bound to the music and this culture.

So what type of food do you pair with Mariachi music?

I asked 20 people sitting in the Jardin yesterday and 20 out of 20 said…

                                                                                           Photo courtesy Grover Sanschagrin.

Tequila...what else?

Salad and Buen Apetito!

Stuffing Yourself Silly On Tortas

I looked all over San Miguel for a Cemita and I couldn’t find one. I’m new here so unless I am missing something there are none to be found. Anyway, it gives me an excuse to go to Puebla to get this sandwich which is served on a bread roll that’s covered with sesame seeds. It’s as much about the sandwich as it is the roll. That’s not the real draw however; the bread is made with egg, and resembles a brioche. Just mention Brioche and you have my attention.

I decided to try the closest thing here in San Miguel, the Torta, at:

El Tucan, Hernando Macias #56

Torta Mundo, Umaran #29

Tortitlan, Juarez #17

Back in Chicago, I go to Rick Bayless’s street food restaurant XOCO where they serve tortas in soup. I’ve gotten use to eating them that way so this will be a new adventure.

For those who have not had one, a torta is served on a bolillo to which you add meat (a milanesa of pork, chicken or steak or ham) and then overstuff with veggies. For the most part, they are pretty healthy except if you select a milanesa, which of course I did because many people told me it was their favorite.

After a brief flirt with all three, El Tucan and Tortitlan topped my list as the best torta restaurants in San Miguel. 

At Hernandez Macias #56, El Tucan turned out to be a real find in many other ways.

I hesitated when I walked in the door because this was Guy Fieri’s (Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives) definition of a real dive ( a hole in the wall, not necessary speaking about the way they prepare their food).

Dives are also known by locals as the best place to eat, because of both price and the quality of the food.

Fact of the matter was the smell of French fries drew me in. They were REAL French fries and I stood in the entry, next to the long stove, watching the cook cut them. These were the first fresh-cut fries I’ve had since I’ve been in San Miguel. Did I tell you that French Fries are my favorite food? I was impressed.

After having the Torta Milanesa Pollo, which was delicious, I decided to go back the next day to try the hamburger. Guy Fieri would give this place a huge thumbs up for the food. I actually can’t remember when a burger tasted so darn good. Alejandro, the owner, grinds fresh hamburger daily from flank steak. He worked in Illinois for many years and truly knows fresh food.

That night, I decided to try my hand and make a Torta for dinner. I used only the best ingredients:

Bolillos from Cumpanio Bakery, Correo #29
Bread crumbs from La Queseria, Calle Ancha San Antonio #35b
Chicken from La Lonja Carniceria , Mesones #33
Veggies from the Organic market

I have to admit that I liked my version better than the ones I ate out and it all goes back to the fresh ingredients.

OK – So I’m Still Craving a Cemita…

I had a Cemita recipe from a 2004 issue of Gourmet magazine. After looking high and low for a cemita bun, or something like one, I made this sandwich today. It was exactly the savor I was craving. I thought that it would be hot but it was actually just the right amount of spice.

We’ll see when I travel to Puebla which one is better.

For chile-marinated pork or chicken:
6 dried guajillo chiles
1 dried ancho chile
4 thin (1/2- inch) rib pork chops, bones (1 lb total) discarded or chicken
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 whole clove
1 cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 large garlic cloves, quartered
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

For sandwiches:
4 Mexican cemita rolls or sesame seed hamburger buns
2 avocados
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 1/2 cups Oaxaca cheese or mozzarella cheese, shredded
4 chipotle chiles in adobo, finely chopped
1/2 large white onion, thinly sliced
1 large plum tomato, thinly sliced crosswise

Discard chile stems and cut guajillo and ancho chiles open lengthwise. Discard seeds and ribs.

Heat a dry heavy skillet over moderate heat until hot, then toast chiles, a few at a time, turning and pressing down with tongs, until softened and fragrant, about 10 seconds per side.

Transfer chiles to a bowl, then cover with hot water and soak until softened, about 20 minutes.

Trim fat from pork or chicken and pound between 2 sheets of wax paper with flat side of a meat pounder or with a rolling pin until meat is about 1/8 inch thick.

Heat skillet over low heat until hot then toast cumin, peppercorns, clove, and cinnamon, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Transfer spices to a blender and add vinegar, garlic, oregano, salt, and soaked chiles with about 1/3 cup soaking water, then blend until smooth. Transfer half of chile paste to an airtight container and chill or freeze for another use, then put remainder in a small bowl.

Spread a thin layer of chile paste in middle of a sheet of plastic wrap large enough to wrap all of meat and put 1 pork chop over paste. Spread a thin layer of chile paste on top, then continue layering meat, spreading each piece with chile paste. Wrap stacked pork in plastic wrap and marinate, chilled, at least 2 hours.

Heat 1tablespoons oil in a heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Season pork chops or chicken with salt and sauté, in batches, adding more oil as necessary, until just cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes per side.

Toast rolls in the oven until golden brown.

In a bowl, lightly mash avocado with a fork, then spread on both sides of rolls.

Season avocado with salt, then top with cilantro.

Next layer pork, cheese, chipotles, onion, and tomato.

Buen Apetito!

Man Cannot Live On Bread Alone...

                                                  Enchanting treats from MividaCalle Hernandez Macias 97

Try me!

Buen Apetito!

Anytime Soups and Chilis

I eat soup and chili year round no matter how hot it is outside. I like them because once you get everything in the pot, you are done. I’m all for easy…especially when I have guests.
I love serving soups and chilis out of the beautiful pottery that I am now finding at the local market.
These two are celebrated, full-fledged meals with a chunk of crusty bread and a bottle of great Mexican wine from the Guadalupe Valley.
Buen Apetito!
Smoky Lamb and Chorizo Chili
Adapted from Bon Appetit 

2 ¼ cups unsalted chicken broth
3 ounces dried ancho chilies
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 1/2 lbs pork chorizo, casings removed (about 4 or 5)
1 large red onion, chopped
1 ball of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon cumin
1 1/2 lbs ground lamb
1 15 ounce can pinto beans, drained
Salt and black pepper
Grated cheddar cheese
Sliced green onions
Sour cream
Pickled jalapenos, chopped
Fresh cilantro, chopped

Combine first three ingredients in saucepan. Cover and simmer until chilies soften and broth turns dark red, about 10 minutes. Puree mixture in food processor. Strain mixture through mesh strainer, pressing on solids until all liquid is drained.

Cook chorizo in a large pot over medium heat until drippings flow freely. Add the onion, garlic, oregano, and cumin, and sauté until chorizo starts to brown and onions soften, about five minutes.

Crumble lamb into pot, and add salt and pepper. Sauté until lamb is no longer pink. Add chili liquid, and reduce heat. Cover and simmer for one hour.
Add drained pinto beans and simmer until thick, about 15 minutes. Serve with sour cream, green onions, grated cheddar, cilantro, and pickled jalapenos.

Tortilla Chicken Soup
serves 4

1 tsp. canola oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 T. chili powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
4 c. chicken broth
2 c. cooked, chicken – both dark and white meat from a rotisserie chicken
1 c. fresh corn
2 fresh tomatoes, sliced thin
1 fresh, whole green chili, sliced thin
Juice of 1 fresh lime
1/2 c. baked tortilla chips, crushed
1/4 c. shredded Cheddar and Colby Jack Mexican mix cheese
1/4 c. chopped fresh cilantro
1 c. diced, peeled avocado

Heat in a large saucepan. Add the oil. Add garlic, chili powder and cumin. Cook one minute. Add the next four ingredients; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add lime juice and salt to taste. Ladle into four bowls. Top with chips, cheese, cilantro and avocado.

Torrejas de Bolillo

I first had this dessert at one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in Chicago, Mercadito. I thought that this was the best Mexican dessert I ever had.

It’s no wonder when I read the recipe: creme anglaise soaked mexican bolillos topped with ice cream and cajeta sauce. All my favorites things in one recipe.

The amount of ingredients will vary depending on how many guests you have.

Experiment with the Crème Anglaise to determine just how much you like in the egg batter. I like mine a little on the heavy side.

Buen Apetito!

Torreja Recipe

Mexican bolillo rolls
Crème Anglaise
Oil to fry
Cajeta Sauce
Ice Cream

Separate the egg yolks and egg whites. Beat the egg whites with a hand beater until spongy and firm. Add the egg yolks and continue to beat until they are mixed well. Add Crème Anglaise.
Cut the bolillos into slices about 1” thick.
Dip each slice in the egg mixture and then into a very hot pan.
Cook completely and turn over.
Pat the cooked pieces with a paper towel to drain any excess oil.

Top with Ice Cream and Cajeta.

Cheese Crisp

I first saw this recipe in the Tulsa Tribune way back when. It’s been one of my standby recipes all these years. People love it because it’s just like eating a mini cheese pizza. You can also put as much or as little as cheese to top it off.
The trick is to crisp the tortilla in the pan before you place the ingredients on it and put it under the broiler.

I will sometimes have one or two for dinner when I’m feeling way too lazy to cook.

Buen Apetito!

12” Flour Tortillas
Shredded Mexican cheese – Cheddar and/or Jack Cheese

Place tortilla in a fry pan over medium heat and crisp on both sides. Place the tortilla on a cookie sheet and top with cheese. Place under the broiler and cook until the cheese melts and it is a little brown around the edges.

You can put other toppings on these little Pizzas but I like it just with cheese.

This recipe is one from the Chicago Tribune and was adapted from Danny Mena, Hecho en Dumbo, Manhattan. This sauce is also good on fish tacos.

Salsa Verde:

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds tomatillos, papery husks removed, cut in half
8-12 Serrano chilies (depending on heat tolerance)
½ onion, peeled
1 garlic clove
6 whole sprigs cilantro, stems included
Lime Juice

In a wide skillet, heat oil until shimmering but not smoking

Add tomatillos, chilies, onion (cut side down) and garlic.

Cook over medium-high heat, turning often, until vegetables are browned, turning to black and seared on all sides.

Add cilantro and puree with blender until smooth, adding a little water if needed.

Season to taste with salt and lime juice.

The sauce should be tart and spicy but rounded in flavor.

Here is another Salsa Verde recipe option that you do not have to cook. You’ll never buy it again once you see how easy it is to make and just how much better it is made from scratch.


4 oz. tomatillos, husked and rinsed
4 cloves garlic
2 medium white onions, quartered
2 jalapeños, stemmed
1 tsp. sugar
1 bunch cilantro, stemmed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place tomatillos, garlic, onions, and jalapeños in a 4-qt. saucepan; cover with water by 1". Bring to a boil; cook until slightly soft, about 5 minutes. Drain and reserve 1 cup cooking liquid.

Transfer to a blender along with reserved liquid, sugar, cilantro, and salt and pepper; pulse until chunky. Transfer to a bowl, and serve at room temperature.


I just got back from Michoacan where I had my first paleta. I didn’t have one here in San Miguel because I wanted to reserve that “first” for the birthplace of the Mexican popsicle.

I always crave these in the summer and this summer has been no exception. The paleterías here however always make them with fresh fruit so they are wonderfully refreshing.

Milk-based flavors are creamy and include such standard flavors as vanilla, strawberry and chocolate. Ice-based flavors include strawberry, mango, cantaloupe, watermelon, pineapple and yes even tamarind.

Like everything else, there are also many gourmet paleterías popping up who use fresh, all-natural local ingredients.

Here are two I made that were both really good – one icy and the other creamy.

They are a real treat after walking the hills all day in the warm afternoon sun.

Buen Apetito!

Pineapple Ice Pops (Paletas de Piña)
Makes 8

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
4 cups minced fresh pineapple

Bring sugar and 1 cup water to a boil in a 1-qt. saucepan and stir until sugar dissolves. Transfer mixture to a bowl and refrigerate until chilled. 

Put the chilled mixture and half of the pineapple into a blender; purée. Set a fine sieve over a bowl and strain puréed pineapple mixture, discarding solids. Stir the remaining pineapple into the mixture and pour into eight 3-oz. ice-pop molds.

Transfer molds to the freezer and freeze until slushy, about 1 hour.

Insert a Popsicle stick into each mold and freeze until pops are solid, about 3 hours more.

To release ice pops from molds, run the bottom of the molds briefly under warm water.

Strawberry Paletas

1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved (save one for the stick)
2 pints premium vanilla ice cream

Slice strawberries and put in a large bowl. Transfer to a bowl, then freeze, uncovered, until cold, about 10 minutes.

Transfer ice cream to a microwave-safe bowl and microwave at 30 percent power in 10-second intervals, stirring, until softened, about 50 seconds total.

Spread evenly in a 13-by 9-inch baking dish and freeze while strawberry mixture chills.

Dollop tablespoons of strawberry all over ice cream, then swirl it gently through ice cream with a spoon.

Spoon into molds (or into cups) and add sticks with a berry nearest the paleta.

Freeze until firm, about 1 1/4 hours.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

You Are What You Eat...just not today!

I can think of at least a dozen reasons to buy locally grown and raised foods. To me it is important to know where my food comes from and what it was fed. 

You also get incomparable taste and freshness. Is there anything better than savoring the taste of a just-picked salad?

Many of the restaurant owners in San Miguel now have green rooftops and are growing many of the things you see on their menus.
Knowing where your food comes from and what it’s fed is your quickest ticket to healthy eating. I agree that the price may be a bit more expensive but when you weigh in the fact that you get weeks instead of days out of locally grown, it’s less expensive in the long run. I seldom throw food out anymore.

Locally-sourced meats, dairy products, and seasonal produce are the key ingredients to creating great recipes.

When I was in Chicago, I shopped at Green City Market twice a week. Green City is one of the major organic markets in the world and has strict standards by which its vendors are required to follow. 
In fact, even for prepared food vendors, Green City expects them to source as many ingredients as they can from farmers at the Market.

I love San Miguel’s organic market not only because it connects me to the sources of what I’m eating but also from a social aspect. Every week I meet many new people just by sitting down at one of the communal tables and sharing a cup of coffee.

The food is delicious. Last week I had the most wonderful Lamb Barbacoa dressed with onion, cilantro and salsa verde.
What am I eating now? A chocolate doughnut.

Just for today, I think I’ll skip the reminder “You Are What You Eat.

“Buen Apetito!
Lamb Barbacoa

3 pounds boneless lamb shoulder
5 ancho chiles
3 guajillo chiles
8 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
¾ cup of brewed coffee
½ cup of water
½ tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. cumin
1 tbsp. agave nectar
1 onion, cut into fine slivers
1 cup chopped cilantro
Salt to taste

Toast chiles over medium heat on each side and then turn off the heat and fill the skillet with water. Let the chiles soak for 22 minutes until soft.

Cut the lamb into two-inch cubes and rub with salt.

Drain the chiles and place in a blender. Add the garlic, coffee, water, cinnamon, oregano, cumin and agave nectar. Puree until smooth.

Cover the lamb with the chile puree, and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least six hours.

Heat the oven to 250. In a roasting pan, coat the bottom with marinade. Place onions on top and then top with the lamb.

Cover with foil, and then cook for four hours or until tender.

Shred meat with forks and serve on homemade tortillas with the traditional cilantro, onions and salsa verde.

Serves six.