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!


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 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.


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.


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

Monday, January 19, 2015

San Miguel: A Smorgasbord of Food Choices

I consider dining out homework. When faced with the question of where to eat, you've got to love the smorgasbord of choices in San Miguel.

Living in a town the size of San Miguel, we’ve never been deprived of anything except perhaps an occasional lemon. Even home cooks are challenged not to ultimately find ingredients or substitutes. With a large number of American and Canadian expatriates, entrepreneurs, and foreign professionals relocating to our city, you can savor classic Mexican dishes as well as international and gourmet cuisine. We’ve got everything!

I usually go to a restaurant based on recommendations from friends. I’ll admit that it does take three favorable ones to get me there. 

If I'm new in a town, I do additional research BEFORE I go based on blogs and other food and restaurant websites. I put a list together and stick to it unless someone or something local tells me to do otherwise. That happens often. By asking the locals, you'll always find yourself in the best food spots.

In Mexico, you get a real feel of local life with the ritual of a Sunday dinner. Mealtime is treated as sacred. Gathering to dine with my Mexican friend Lilli's family is a window into everything I love about feasting in Mexico. 

This week, we dined from the high end to the low at old standbys and great new restaurants and realized one thing: you don't have to spend a lot of money to score a great plate of food.

Old Standards…

Honestly, some of my favorite eats are inexpensive like El Tucan's Flautas for 35 pesos for 5/$2.41 a plate or a Torta for 29 pesos/$1.98; 

Andy’s where Tacos al Pastor are a passion for just 10 pesos each/69 cents; and 

Broaster Chicken, 25 pesos for a breast/$1.71. There are dozens of rotisserie chicken places around and I really like them but nothing is better or healthier than just-broasted chicken with the skin off.

I will occasionally skip a meal and juice it at Raymundo’s on Quebrada across from Callejon de los Muertos. Raymundo has a knack for picking the best fruit and vegetables to make his juices.

I can’t forget the Mixiotes on Canal at El Pato (Calzada de la Estacion 175); my mothers’ pot roast on overdrive or 

the Jicama Tacos at La Azotea.

New Favorites…

I also loved Firenze‘s short ribs for 185 pesos/$12.73. This is the prime four star ticket in town.

One of the best ways to digest Mexico's rich food history is to go to a restaurant like Salsabor. I didn’t know that the majority of Mexico's contemporary African descendant population lives in a region which includes the Caribbean coastal area of the southern state of Oaxaca and are responsible for bringing complex dishes like Estofado del Istmo de Tehuantepec stew to Mexico. Chef Alfonso made a great pot this past week.

There are meal deals everywhere around town; some of them you'll stumble upon like the food trucks we found in Juarez Park on Saturday that are our latest food crush.  

A culinary happening named Aperi pushed SMA's food boundaries up a notch and now challenges other higher-end restaurant to deliver food that is both consistent and delicious. Yes, no more trips to Mexico City just to get that 5 star experience where dining at the chef's table is your ultimate food adventure. Third time’s a charm? Chef Matteo Salas came out of the kitchen not once, not twice but three times to check on his guests in the dining room when I was there for breakfast. Salas is a graduate of the Paul Bocuse culinary institute in Lyon, France and the master of some pretty memorable Hollandaise sauce. 

Although we had different reasons for liking all the restaurant we tried this week, you decide. 

We savored every bite whether we paid 10 pesos or 1000.

Buen Apetito!

Áperi Restaurant
Quebrada 101 in Dos Casas

This kitchen struck gold with the arrival of Chef Matteo Salas. With the Sous Vide going 12 hours for sea bass, 24 hours for suckling pig and 36 hours for short rib, he’s managed to convert every one of these dishes into rave reviews. Book the Chefs table for a singular dining experience.

I went for breakfast and most items were in a price range that most people can afford but be prepared to pay $330 pesos for Short Rib at lunch… just in case you decide to splurge.

The Huevos Benedictinos catered to both expat camps with bacon AND Canadian bacon, spinach with pepitas and a perfect oven roasted tomato. What made this dish worth $130 pesos? The hollandaise sauce was lighter than you can imagine with the perfect hint of lemon. 

I also wondered how soon before we could make a return trip.

Café Firenze 
Recreo # 13

Want a meal that loves you back? On a low, slow braise for 6 hours, the real finish to this dish was in the glaze. Sit back and take in the ambiance of Firenze’s new neighborhood. We love the outdoor patio. Indulge in a glass of wine or two. It's a delicious pairing for the best piece of meat in town.

If you try this at home, Glacé de Viande is not the easiest thing to do your first time out but once you rule the technique, everyone will be begging you for an invitation to dinner. 

Just ask local home chef Melissa Barnett who used the technique on pork tenderloins at a dinner she hosted this week. I was lucky enough to score an invite.

Salsabor Prehispanic Delicatessen
Calle Antonio Plaza 21A Col. Guadalupe. 

That taste of Oaxaca has been lingering in my head ever since I visited last year. Yes, their food is one of those things that will stay with you forever.

Located in their home in Colonia Guadalupe, this restaurant embodies the soul of a good neighborhood restaurant.

Mexican-Italian born Chef Alfonso Lopez de Anda is at the helm of the kitchen and works with his wife, local cartoonist Isis Rodriquez to put out some pretty interesting food.

We got a taste of Memelitas which were 2 copal toasted tortillas, one with dark Mole Sauce and the other made with flavorful Black Bean Sauce...both with Queso fresco and lettuce ($30 pesos) and Tlayudas...a large copal toasted corn tortilla with string cheese, black bean epazote sauce and grilled marinated arrachera with lettuce and tomato ($85 pesos). 

Both dishes tasted different from the ones we had above in Oaxaca last year proving once again that it all comes down to the chef’s culinary roots and his interpretation of the dish.

Café Mesones

Is it time for dinner or breakfast? This San Miguel version of the Southern standby is a sweet-and-savory concoction that is fit for anyone who really doesn’t know the difference…or doesn’t care.

The best things in life come in pairs and this one is not just all hype… it happens to be the most popular item on the menu.

A crispy outer layer of chicken balances out against a waffle that is all buttermilk and drown in a pool of warm, buttery syrup. Even the most purebred Southern eater will be won over on their first bite.

Having a Southern menu on location is just another option to add to your immense assortment of choices and I’m a firm believer that one can never have too many choices…especially when it comes to eating.

La Agustina Food Truck

Partners Monserrat, Chef Francisco and sister Mariana have the corner on serving good food on the go. Their menu is small but they have mastered the list of some very good eats.

Try their signature dish, the Augustinas sell for 50 pesos; a pork shank taco dressed in tomato, cheese, onion, lettuce, crema and chilies.

They are currently looking for a new spot to park.

Friend them on Facebook to get the latest information on where they are going to be next.

Chef on Fuego Food Truck

I was particularly interested in this food truck because I heard the restaurant, Chef on Fuego Bar and Grill, features really excellent lamb. 

The restaurant is located at Carretera SMA a Dr. Mora Km 1 Junto Asociación Ganadera 37748 San Miguel de Allende.

Chef Jose Castle, worked at the Ritz Carlton in Naples, Florida and the most recently at Wolfgang Puck's Spago at the Ritz Carlton in Colorado.

We loved the Tacos Pescado with a perfect finish of pickled red onion at 20 pesos each or $1.36. 

Who said $1 and a few pesos doesn't get you lunch anymore?

El Huarache Veloz

This popular Mexican breakfast stop may convince you to give up that bowl of Zucaritas once and for all. Since 1986, this stand in the Mercado San Juan de Dios makes fresh huaraches; an oblong, masa base that is dressed with selected toppings such as salsa, potatoes, onions, or meat then covered with a pile of Ranchero cheese. Unfathomably delicious with a whisper of homemade salsa. 23 pesos each. Independencia just north of Canal, San Miguel de Allende.

Tacos en Mesones

This place packs more flavors into your spare change than any other spot in San Miguel. They have a cart on Mesones and Pepe Llano and one on San Francisco, across from Intercam (San Francisco 4).Other than having two of the best locations in town, there is a reason these street carts have a huge fan base. The Holy Grail of cheap eats in Centro, the Tacos al Pastor are just 10 pesos each/$0.69 and they hold up to some of the best in town. A pile of beautifully seasoned, succulent pork covered with grilled pineapple and onions are splashed with fiery hot sauce. Perfect for soaking up too many late-night tequila shots.