30 August, 2012

Travel Journal - Zacatecas

I am typing out my journal from our travels across Mexico.  I thought that I would share a little snippet with you ;)

January 19, 2012
We stayed at a lovely hotel in Zacatecas called Hacienda del Bosque, they have hook ups in a side parking lot for RV’s and special bathrooms for their campers.  We were the only ones camping so we enjoyed the facilities all to ourselves.  Zacatecas is beautiful and very interesting!  It was built in the 1500’s and began as a mining town.  They still have two working mines today.

We got to visit one of the mines that had been shut down in the 60’s because it runs underneath most of the city they were concerned that it may weaken the structure of the city.  You could see shimmers in the rocks as you walked along.  It was really fantastic tour.  We also took a gondola from one end of the city up to the highest peak they call La Bufa which means wind gust.  The view was breathtaking.  The weather was nice and warm for us (coming from Albuquerque where it was below freezing at night and in the low 40’sF during the day) we were in short sleeves while everyone else was bundled up in sweaters and scarves and looking at us like we had three heads.  Ha ha ha!  The funny thing is it was around 70 degrees F!  The downtown was everything that we imagined and more!  Cobble stone streets, tiled plazas, Baroque churches sheathed in gold, twisting turning alleys that climb up hills at a 45 degrees angles...  We ran ourselves ragged with three days of tourism, but it was worth it!

From there it was only a quick two hour ride to Aguascalientes where we are staying now.  Travel has been great, there have been very few cars on the road and some semi trucks.  There are many officers; federal, police, army, patrolling the highways and cities.  But it is not scary.  They are there to make sure that nothing happens or that drugs and weapons do not enter or leave the country.  they have been very friendly with us the few times that we have been stopped to check our paperwork, even giving us recommendations for breakfast!  More than being scared it is a relief and nice to see these men working hard and protecting their country.

28 August, 2012

27 August, 2012

Mexicanized Indian Cuisine

I have been craving Indian food for months!  Living in a small town there are not really a lot of choices in terms of "exotic" cuisine.  Not to mention that Mexican food is so diverse, you don't really get bored very easily.  But I usually get a terrible craving for Indian every few months and when we lived in Napa, CA I would head to my home town of Davis and eat at my favorite Indian Restaurant; Kathmandu.  I went to school with the kids of the owners and became close friends with their circle of friends.  Most of them are from Northern India and so the cuisine is more Punjabi style.  So when I want Indian food I really want Punjabi food. It is what I know and I absolutely love the vegetarian dishes.

Thankfully many of the spices used in Punjabi cooking are readily available in Mexico, even in a small town. <Phew!>  The only item I was unable to locate was Coriander Seeds.  In Mexican cuisine it is much more common to add the fresh stuff: Cilantro...so that is what I did.  The other thing I could not find was "Wheat Flour".  Now Flour is made from Wheat...obviously.  But when we say we want Wheat Flour in the States we mean the brown stuff. So,  I did not get to make my favorite staple to Punjabi Cuisine; Roti.  I broke the rule and made Rice instead, which is not very common in Punjabi cooking.

Here are my Mexicanized Recipes of some simple Punjabi classic dishes.  To prepare these dishes you will need Garam Masala.  You can make a quick and easy mix on your own using ground spices, but if you have access to them I highly recommend purchasing Whole spices, toasting them and then grind them in a spice grinder, into a fine powder.  It is also possible to purchase a premix Garam Masala at many grocery stores.

Garam Masala (measurements are for ground spices)
2 Bay Leaves (if you do not have a spice grinder, omit)
1 Tablespoon Cumin
1 teaspoon Coriander
1 1/2 teaspoon Cardamon
1 1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Cloves
1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg

Dal Makhani
250 grams Black Lentils cooked in 2 cups vegetable stock
5 Tomatoes
1/4 Onion
1 Serrano Chile (seeded, optional)
3 Cloves Garlic
1 inch Ginger, grated on a micro-plane
1 teaspoon Garam Masala
1 Tablespoon Chopped Cilantro
2 Tablespoons Butter
1/2 - 1 Cup Cream
Salt to taste

This dish is traditionally made with black lentils cooked until mushy, and kidney beans.  I omitted the kidney beans and used white lentils because it was what I had on hand. 

Start the Lentils first, cooking in 2 cups Vegetable Stock over low heat.  It takes about 20-30 minutes.  We like Lentils al dente, but feel free to cook them more if you prefer.
In the blender puree together the tomatoes, onion, chile, garlic and ginger until perfectly smooth.
Pour the puree into a deep sauce pan, add the Garam Masala, and Cilantro.  Simmer over low heat until the puree has reduced and it starts to thicken, about 25 minutes.
Add the cooked lentils and any leftover Vegetable Stock.  Simmer together for another 5 minutes or if you prefer something thicker reduce some more.
To finish the dish add the butter and cream, simmer for another 3 minutes.  Salt to taste.
Serve preferably with Roti or over Rice.  Garnish with Chopped Cilantro and drops of Cream.

For a lovely video of someone preparing this dish go HERE.  She really explains each of the ingredients and how to use them!

Aloo Paratha
Dough Ingredients:

Filling Ingredients:
3-4 Boiled Potatoes, Grated
2 Tablespoons Oil
1/2 teaspoon Garam Masala
Serrano Chile, finely chopped
1/2 Bunch Chopped Cilantro
1/2 Onion, finely chopped
Salt to Taste
1/2 teaspoon Lime Juice

This is traditionally a breakfast dish.  But I thought it might make a fun side dish to some Chicken Tikka Masala.

Mix together the flour and salt. Drizzle with Oil.  Slowly add cool water until it forms a firm dough.  Set aside to rest.

Grate the boiled potatoes with a cheese grater.
Toast the spices in the dry pan. Then saute the Chile, and Onion in the oil.
Add the grated potato and cilantro stir together thoroughly and season with salt.
Transfer to a bowl, add the lime juice.  Then let rest for 20 minutes.

Roll the dough into a log and cut into equal sizes.  On a floured surface roll out the dough into round disks.
Place a golf ball sized ball of filling in the middle of the dough round. Slowly and carfelly gather the edges, twisting and pinching them together at the top and twisting off any excess.
Pat the dough/filling ball into a thick round and carfelly roll out again with a rolling pin.  Pierce air bubbles that form with a fork and seal the hole.

On a hot comal or frying pan toast the Paratha.  When you flip the Paratha over spread with butter.  Butter the other side once it is finished.
Serve with your favorite chutney.

To see a video of the whole process go HERE.  I really like this guy!  He is a little wordy, but when you are making a dish for the first time, it is kind of nice to have someone explain to you in "Sesame Street".

Chicken Tikka Masala

This is a simple recipe and a nice video to go with it.  Maybe a little too Americanized for my taste, but it works in a pinch.

23 August, 2012

Photography Competition for Ojala Ninos

I need help picking the best 3 pictures for a Calendar to benefit Ojala Ninos a fantastic organization here in San Miguel.  Whichever picture is selected for the cover wins $1,000 pesos.  Please vote for your favorite 3.

Thank you for your help! And don't forget to check out Ojala Ninos, they could use your support too!!!






















21 August, 2012

Tianguis Treats- Tamales

 I never really liked Tamales until we made it to Mexico City.  Outside of my sister in law's home are the fluffiest tamales I have ever tried.  My personal favorite is a Tamal of Chicharon en Salsa Verde made into a Torta.  I cannot think of a better hangover cure.

What is your favorite Tamale filling?
Tamal Oaxaqueno de Mole

Tamal Dulce de Pina

20 August, 2012

Achiote Paste with I Heart Cooking Clubs

This is Achiote also known as Annatto.  It is a seed from a Achiote bush.  The name comes from Nahuatal; Achiotl which means shrub.  The seeds are usually ground into a paste with various spices and then used for flavoring dishes.  It is also used for food coloring (orange).  Normally in the stores you purchase the paste already prepared.  If you look hard you may find packets of Annatto Seeds or Powder.

We purchased these seeds in the Market place in Chiapas on our trip.  I had never seen the seeds by themselves and knew this was a treasure to bring home.  I have been looking for a recipe for Achiote Paste, and I found it in the piles of cookbooks I brought with me to Mexico; Authentic Mexican by Rick Bayless.  I have really enjoyed making Rick's recipes with I Heart Cooking Clubs these past couple of months.  I have learned a lot about Mexican cooking techniques.  It is as if Rick has translated not just the ingredients but the concept and methods.  

I followed his recipe for Achiote Paste using the blender, packed it into a jar and let it rest overnight.  Now what to do with it?  Achiote by itself is not spicy, it has a slight nutty flavor, something that reminds you of nutmeg and is sort of peppery.  To make the paste you grind the seeds with peppercorns, oregano, cloves, cumin, cinnamon, coriander and garlic.  This all makes a powerfully flavorful paste.  It can be used as a rub, in marinades, salsas... the options are endless.  But the typical use is in a marinade with orange juice over chicken, pork or even fish.  For heat you can add Chipotles like we made a few weeks back.

Achiote Chicken
1/4 cup Rick Bayless' Achiote Paste
2 cups Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice
2 Chipotle Chilies in Adobo
6 Pieces Chicken Thigh

Blend the Achiote Paste, Orange Juice and Chipotles in the blender.  Marinade the chicken for 4 hours or over night.
Grill the chicken until the juices run clear.  Or bake in an oiled dish with half of the remaining marinade.

Serve with rice and tortillas.

16 August, 2012

Chocolate and Churros in SMA

One thing that everyone loves about San Miguel is the Paroquia at night.  The way it is lit and the mariachi's wandering the square... it is a sight to be seen!  We like to head down just before Sunset grab a cup of Mexican Hot Chocolate and some Crispy Sweet Churros and wander around the plaza.  It is a lovely and romantic setting as you watch the sun go down and the lights on the church and the surrounding plaza go up...so peaceful!

Menu from Franciscan Cafe across the street from the Franciscan Plaza
But there in the question lies; Where to buy the Chocolate and Churros?  There are two spots downtown known for their Chocolate and Churros, served all day long and with the option of getting them to go. They are the Franciscan Cafe and Donovan's.  Now just about every Expat we know told us to go to the Franciscan Cafe.  We did but the chocolate tasted like Hot Chocolate... good quality mind you but it was not MEXICAN Hot Chocolate, and we were surprised that they only had a few options.  The Churros were very good!  From the Franciscan Cafe you can cross the street and head on over to the Franciscan Church Plaza and a lot of the times on the weekend they have Fireworks over the church.

Menu from Donovan's on Hidalgo
Our Personal Choice for Chocolate and Churros is Donavan's.  They have six different kinds of Mexican Chocolate and they are all distinctly different.  Our favorite is the Mexicano but for something extremely different you should try the El Fraile which is extra thick!  The Churros are fantastic, although we have yet to try the Stuffed Churros as they always seem to be out.  I am not certain that I would recommend Donavan's for a meal, their wide array of menu options seems to be their downfall :(  But they remain my absolute favorite for Chocolate and Churros.  From Donavans you walk two blocks up hill and you have reached the central plaza of downtown.  You can hire a group of Mariachis to sing you  a song or simply enjoy the night air as you stroll around the plaza and gaze up at the Cathedral. 
Mexican Hot Chocolate at Home
How do you like your Hot Chocolate?  What do you like to eat with your cup of Chocolate?
Where's my Churro???

15 August, 2012

Repeat Customer - Cocktail Hour

Cocktail Hour Menu:
Mini Pulled Pork Sandwich with Coleslaw
Chicken Mole Hojaldras
Risotto Balls with Romesco Sauce
Stuffed Mushrooms

Crudites Platter
Fruit Plate

Bar Service

Plating the Sandwiches
Slow Roasted Pork for the Sandwiches
Falling Apart and Ready for our Homemade BBQ Sauce

Full Service Bar
Setting up the bar and making a Sample Margarita for our Hostess
Ready for Service
Crudites Platter with Chef Boris' Famous Blue Cheese Dressing

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