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¡México con Gusto! (May 7, 2009)

¡Hola! We are spending 2 glorious months San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a delightful and charming mile high city north west of Mexico City. A UN World Heritage site, this lovely old colonial city is a popular destination for many North Americans and Europeans who want to experience Mexico up close and along the way learn some Spanish, study and enjoy art, attend concerts and theater, and perhaps try a Mexican cooking class or two. The list of cultural activities in San Miguel rivals that of a major university, but this version is all the fun without the finals!

In the other direction, 465 km south of Mexico City, is the state of Oaxaca (say "wa-HA-ca"). The eponymous capitol has been designated a UN World Heritage site, and for good reason: the gloriously excessive Spanish baroque architecture, culture and dance, costumes, colour and markets and perhaps most importantly (to us anyway), the cuisine.

The people of Oaxaca take food very seriously. In Paris, the exiled José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori, who later became President of Mexico (1876 to 1880 and 1884 to 1911), hated the French food, and missed the richness, the imagination, the variety, and poetry of the Oaxacan cooking. Every day he asked his wife for news of Oaxaca and wondered how was it possible to live without the light and sky of Oaxaca, without the fiestas and market places, without the food of Oaxaca.

Oaxaca is home of the "siete moles" (seven molesmole is "MO-lay," a sauce and not a burrowing animal), and they each require at least thirty-one ingredients; this is a huge undertaking for a sauce that today has about two hundred varieties. We had to give you a version, and while it's complicated and time consuming, it's worth all the effort and as close to the real thing as you can get! So if you can't get to Mexico this year, then get a copy of Tamales, by Daniel Hoyer, and taste what you're missing... Hoyer teaches at The Santa Fe School of Cooking, consults for restaurants internationally, and has authored Culinary Mexico, Mayan Cuisine and Recipes from the Yucatan Region, among others. He knows Mexican food, and so far, everything we've tried from his cookbook is perfecto!

Anything goes into a tortilla, and Wraps: Easy Recipes for Handheld Meals by the talented twins Mary Corpening Barber and Sara Corpening plus the expertise of editor and food writer Lori Lyn Narlock gives us a global collection of wrapped recipes. We began trying the Mexican versions, but Wraps goes on to BBQ steak in Rodeo Roundup, curried lamb in Taj Mahal, an Oktoberfest version and, ohhhh la la, spicy French Kiss! Start your day with This Lox Rocks, and finish with the luscious Apple Wrapover for dessert. Another one? Why thank you!

Small Parties by Marguerite Marceau Henderson is the perfect book for today with recipes and ideas for everything from hearty breakfasts, bridal parties, holiday feasts to informal get-togethers with good friends. Author Henderson has a great reputation as a cooking educator, restaurateur, food writer, cookbook author and television personality. As a caterer she's provided food for big names including President Bush (the first), Martha Stewart, Robert Redford and, to our mind, anyone else who matters. For good reason too: this is a great book!

And what a delicious surprise to discover Goat Cheese by the very interesting Maggie Foard. An interior landscape contractor, she was introduced to fresh goat cheese on her son's first-grade field trip to a local goat farm, and she simply fell in love with the whole place. Maggie and her family now live on twelve acres in rural California, where she not only cooks and writes, she runs a small farm including chickens, goats ducks, peacocks and a rooster. What a woman! What a great cookbook!

Mexico gave chocolate to the world and, according to Dale Hoyt Palfrey and Eli Anderman Skromny, shortly after arriving at Tenochtitlán in the fall of 1519, Hernán Cortés and the Spanish conquistadores were granted an audience with Moctezuma at his breakfast table. They found the Aztec ruler sipping an exotic drink called xocóatl (meaning bitter water). Made from ground cacao beans boiled in water, flavored with vanilla and other tropical spices, and chilled with bits of snow from nearby mountain tops, the pungent beverage was, the Spanish reported, "of a very exciting nature." We agree completely, and our love affair with chocolate has continued unabated since stout Cortés (perhaps that's why the nickname...) had his first sip. Deep Dark Chocolate: Decadent Recipes for the Serious Chocolate Lover by Sara Perry with Jane Zwinger is the perfect book for all us who cannot get enough of the stuff. Muchas gracias, Mexico!

On today's menu:

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Grilled Shrimp, Corn, and Lima Bean Salsa

Like all of us, Marguerite Marceau Henderson loves salsa and chips. She developed this recipe from a dish enjoyed in a Chicago Mexican restaurant. Marguerite says, "I taught this recipe in a cooking class and it converted the lima bean skeptics to lima bean lovers!" We love lima beans and enjoy this recipe all year round. Serve with crispy tortilla chips. From Small Parties.

Makes about 4 cups salsa

  • ½ pound large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
    Corn and Lima Beans
  • 1 cup sweet corn kernels, thawed if frozen
  • 1 cups baby lima beans, blanched for 3 minutes (or use fresh fava beans when in season)
  • 1 Roma tomato, finely diced
  • 1 small jalapeño pepper, cored and diced
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 whole pasilla or poblano pepper, cored and roasted in oven (see note)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp chopped red onion
  • 12 baby grape tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 8 ounces sour cream mixed with 3 Tbsp half-and-half or milk
  • Sprigs fresh cilantro
  • 12 ounces tortilla chips

Toss the shrimp with oil, salt and pepper. Heat a grill pan, grill the shrimp for 3 to 4 minutes per side. Cool. Coarsely chop shrimp. Place in a bowl with corn, lima beans, tomatoes, jalapeño pepper, cilantro, pasilla pepper, lime juice, salt, olive oil, and onion. Toss. Taste for seasoning. Place salsa in the center of a decorative platter, arrange the tomatoes around the salsa, and drizzle with sour cream mixture with a fork back and forth over the salsa. Top with a few sprigs of fresh cilantro. Serve with chips.

Note: Wrap the cored pasilla pepper in aluminum foil and bake in a 375°F oven for 20 minutes, or until softened. When cool, slice the pepper into think strips or chop coarsely. Pasilla or poblano peppers are mild in heat but packed with lots of flavour when cooked. They are best when grilled, roasted, or stuffed and baked.

Tony's wine recommendation:
a white wine with some residual sweetness but with good acidity: chilled white Zinfandel or Riesling Spätlese or Languedoc Viognier


Burrito Classico Wrap

We've eaten enough burritos to stretch to the Panama Canal... and this recipe, from Wraps, is the best known version, the classic we keep coming back to! It's filled with savoury black beans, crunchy peppers, rice and Mexican seasonings. We prefer Mexican or Spanish cheese such as Manchego with this, but Monterey Jack stands in nicely in a pinch!

Serves 2

  • One 15 ½-ounce can black beans, drained
  • ½ cup chopped red bell pepper, seeds and ribs discarded
  • ½ cup chopped yellow bell pepper, seeds and ribs discarded
  • ¾ cup cooked long grain white rice, warm
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • ¼ cup picante sauce
  • 1 Tbsp hot adobo marinade (see note)
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp grated Mexican, Spanish or Monterrey Jack cheese
  • Two 10- or 11-inch flour tortillas
    Flavoured tortilla suggestions: chipotle, whole wheat

Heat the beans in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the peppers, rice, cilantro, picante sauce, adobo marinade, and cumin; cook until warm, 2 to 3 minutes.

Divide the bean mixture among the tortillas, top with the cheese, and wrap.

Note: Hot Adobo Marinade is a blend of drained red chilies, water, salt and sugar. It is used as a marinade or sauce that can be added to sauces, poured over prepared dishes or used as a grilling sauce. It has a smoky-chile taste. Available in ethnic markets or sections of well stocked grocery stores.

Tony's wine recommendation:
off-dry Riesling, Prosecco, off-dry Vouvray


Chicken Quesadillas with Green Olives and Manchego

From Goat Cheese. We can't get enough of quesadillas; they're good with almost any combination inside. We loved trying the various goat cheeses in this tasty snack; the definite tang adds another dimension to the dish! Author Maggie Foard says, "You can find Manchego made from goat's milk if you know where to look, but you can substitute any semi-soft melting cheese for this recipe." She adds, "Some cheeses that are very similar to Manchego are Naked Goat, Iberico, Monteban, Garrotxa and Majorero, Goat jack, Goat Gouda, Goat Cheddar, Drunken Goat, Queso do Cabra – any of these will be great with the chicken and olives!"

In a hurry? Use green olive tapenade from a jar!

Makes 2 servings

  • A little butter or oil for the skillet
  • 4 8-inch flour tortillas
  • 3–4 ounces grated manchego-style goat, Naked Goat, cheddar, Gouda, etc.
  • 2 cups shredded, cooked chicken
  • 2/3 cup sliced green olives or green olive Tapenade
  • Optional extra: hot sauce

Place one tortilla in a warm, lightly buttered skillet. Spread on half the cheese, half the chicken and half the olives, and top with another tortilla. Press down gently with the flat of your hand to encourage the melting cheese to bind the tortillas together. When nicely browned on the bottom, carefully flip and brown the other side. By now the cheese inside should be gooey and melted. Remove to a cutting board and repeat with remaining ingredients. Cool a moment or so and then cut into quarters and serve.

Tony's wine recommendation:
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or Pouilly-Fumé or Soave


Tamales de Mole Negro Oaxaqueños
Oaxaca Chicken and Black Mole Tamales

WARNING: This recipe is not for the fainthearted! But for anyone who has eaten great Mexican food, especially mole sauce, this is worth the effort. Plan well ahead, and block off several hours for the mole preparation!

Chef Daniel Hoyer tells us that for the Dia de los Meurtos (Day of the Dead) especially, as well as for Christmas, weddings, birthday and other special fiestas, black mole tamales are obligatory in both the cities and the villages in the mountains and countryside of Oaxaca. Traditionally wild turkey was the meat of choice, but today the domestic cousin and chicken are both delicious with the rich and complex black mole.

Yes, it's complicated and time consuming, and so worth the effort to get the real thing.

Lard is the fat of choice in Oaxaca, the richer the better, but you may opt for the butter and shortening combination as well. Personally... we went for the lard!

Plan days ahead for this one!

  1. Make the Mole Negro Oaxaqueño
  2. Make Masa for Tamales
  3. Make Whipped Masa
  4. Purchase banana leaves and/or corn husks
  5. ¡Enjoy!

1. Mole Negro Oaxaqueño
Chef Hoyer says this is the grandmother of all moles; in Oaxaca this sauce is saved for special occasions, above all for the Dia de los Meurtos, or Day of the Dead. Make more than enough as it's so time consuming... the good news is that it freezes well!

  • 1 tsp allspice
  • ½ tsp cloves
  • ½ tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 (2-inch) piece canela (cinnamon)
  • 6 chilies mulatos (ancho negro black), stemmed and seeded (reserve the seeds)
  • 4 to 5 chiles chilhuacles negros (if you can't get chilhaucles, just increase the other varieties accordingly), stemmed and seeded
  • 6 chilies guajillos, stemmed and seeded
  • 4 to 5 chiles pasillas negros, stemmed and seeded
  • 1 to 2 dry chipotle chilies (the brown Meco is the best here), stemmed and seeded
  • 1 sliced egg bread or baguette
  • 6 Tbsp pork lard or vegetable oil, divided
  • 2 stale corn tortillas, cut in small pieces
  • ¼ cup whole almonds
  • ¼ cup whole raw peanuts, skinned
  • ¼ cup pecan halves
  • 1 ripe plantain, peeled and sliced
  • 1/8 cup raisins
  • 2 Tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1 pound tomatoes, pan roasted until well blackened
  • 5 ounces tomatillos (4 to 5 medium-sized), husked, rinsed, and pan roasted until well blackened
  • 1 large white onion, peeled, cut in thirds, and pan roasted until slightly charred
  • 10 cloves garlic, pan roasted until slightly blackened, and then peeled
  • 2 tsp dry oregano (Oaxaca or Mexican) toasted
  • 2½ quarts rich chicken broth
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 5 ounces Mexican chocolate
  1. Toast the allspice, cloves, peppercorns and canela in a dry pan until the aroma of the spices is noticeable; grind and set aside.
  2. Toast the chile seeds until very dark (do not be too concerned about burning these seeds, they need to be almost black to provide color and a touch of bitterness); grind, and add to the ground spices.
  3. Toast the chiles (both sides) in the pan until fairly dark in color, place in a bowl, and cover with boiling water. Soak for 20 minutes and remove from the water.
  4. In a preheated heavy skillet or Dutch oven, fry the bread in 2 Tbsp of the lard until dark brown on both sides. Do the same with the tortillas until almost blackened.
  5. Add 2 more Tbsp lard and fry the nuts and plantain together until the plantain is golden brown; add the raisins and sesame seeds, and continue frying, stirring constantly, until the raisins have become well plumped. Remove from the pan.
  6. Combine all of the ingredients except the broth, remaining lard, salt and chocolate.
  7. Divide in two or three parts and blend each part with 1 quart broth until very smooth (add more broth as needed to free the blender but take care not to add more than is needed to blend).
  8. Heat the remaining 2 Tbsp lard in a heavy pot or pan (large enough to easily accommodate the entire mole).
  9. Strain the puree into the hot lard and fry, stirring occasionally for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the mixture has begun to thicken and darken a bit. Reduce heat to simmer (adding additional broth to thin from time to time) and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the mole is the consistency of thin gravy and the flavors are well combined. Add half of the salt, taste, and add more as desired.
  10. Break the chocolate into chunks, add to the sauce, and cook for 5 minutes more while stirring.
  11. Serve with poached or roasted chicken or turkey garnished with additional toasted sesame seeds, along with plain white rice, or serve with Black Mole Tamales.

2. Masa for Tamales
You can purchase ready-to-use masa, but this is relatively easy with available ingredients.

Makes 3½ cups, enough for 24 to 30 tamales

  • 3½ cups masa harina
  • 2¼ cups fairly hot water (140° to 160°F)
  1. Mix together well the masa harina and water.
  2. Cover and let sit for at least 30 minutes. May be refrigerated and kept for up to 2 days.

3. Whipped Masa
Chef Hoyer says this method of making masa produces the types of tamales most familiar to Norteamericanos. He also points out that sufficiently beating the masa, along with the fat and liquid, is essential to achieving a proper texture, whether mixing by machine or hand. Just try not to overbeat, although it's preferable to mix too much rather than not enough. Hint: to see if the masa is ready, take about ½ tsp and try to float it in a cup of cold water. If it doesn't float, keep whipping!

  • 1¼ cups pork lard, butter or vegetable shortening
  • Salt*
  • 3½ cups Masa for Tamales
  • 2 to 2½ cups chicken, pork, or vegetable le broth
  • ¼ cup chile sauce from the tamale recipe (optional)
  1. Using a stand or hand-held mixer or doing it by hand, whip the lard until it is fluffy, about 1 minute or so.
  2. Add salt and continue beating while adding the masa in 2-ounce pieces (about 1 inch) and waiting a few seconds between each addition while continuing to mix.
  3. When about half of the masa is mixed in well, start alternating the masa with the broth until all of the masa is used along with about 2 cups of broth.
  4. Add chile sauce or any other additions and whip until light and fluffy, adding more broth if the mixture seems dry.
  5. Test using the cold water method (see Hint) and whip more with added broth if needed.
  6. Proceed to fill and wrap the tamales as directed in recipe. Makes 5 cups, enough for 24 to 30 tamales.
  7. *Salt note: if using typically salty, commercially prepared broth, eliminate the salt in this recipe.

Are you ready? This is the best part, as you'll be enjoying these savoury tamales in about 2 hours. ¡Con gusto!

Makes 36 to 42 tamales

  • Black Mole Oaxaca-Style
  • 3½ pounds (about 6 cups) shredded boiled, oven roasted or rotisserie chicken or turkey
  • 1½ recipes Basic Whipped or Beaten Masa
  • 42 toasted banana leaves or soaked corn husks plus some extra for the ties and steamer (available at specialty markets)
  1. Mix the mole wit the meat.
  2. Spread about 3 heaping Tbsp masa in the center of each leaf or husk.
  3. Place 3 Tbsp filling across the center of the masa for each tamale.
  4. Wrap and tie the tamales to make a secure package
  5. Place in a preheated steamer and cook for 1½ hours or until the masa pulls cleanly from the wrapper.
  6. Remove from the heat, uncover the steamer, and allow to rest and firm up for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

Tony's wine recommendation:
a hearty red with a touch of sweetness: Zinfandel, Nero d'Avola, Australian Shiraz


Spices of Antiquity Drinking Chocolate

In Sara Perry's book Deep Dark Chocolate: Decadent Recipes for the Serious Chocolate Lover we found this quartet of "drinking chocolates." Perry says, "Unlike 'hot chocolate', drinking chocolates are deliciously thick and heady concoctions generally served in demitasse portions. They are adult drinks to linger over, and it's best to let the beverages rest for 10 minutes (or even overnight) before reheating briefly and serving. This pause gives the flavours and the velvety-smooth richness a chance to develop." This recipe reminds us of Mexico with the warm spices and piquant touch of red pepper; you just try to wait 10 minutes! We don't think stout Cortez did either...

Serves 2

  • 1½ cups whole milk
  • One 4-inch cinnamon stick, coarsely crushed with a meat tenderizer
  • 4 whole cloves, crushed
  • Pinch to scant ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3 ounces premium dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • ¼ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp firmly packed light or dark brown sugar (optional)

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, heat the milk, cinnamon, cloves and red pepper flakes until small bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Remove from the heat and let steep for 15 minutes. Strain the milk through a file-mesh sieve and discard the spices.

Rinse out the saucepan and return the milk to it. Reheat until small bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate until completely smooth. Add the vanilla and brown sugar and stir until completely smooth. Let the hot chocolate rest, uncovered for 10 minutes to develop its flavour and texture. The briefly reheat over medium-low, while stirring constantly. Serve in warm cups.

We wish to thank the following for permission to publish material and photographs:

Raincoast Publishing, Vancouver, BC and Gibbs Smith, Publisher, Layton, Utah for Small Parties by Marguerite Marceau Henderson. Text © 2008 Marguerite Marceau Henderson. Photographs © Kirsten Shultz.

Raincoast Publishing, Vancouver, BC and Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA for Wraps: Easy Recipes for Handheld Meals by Mary Corpening Barber, Sara Corpening and Lori Lyn Narlock. Text © 1997 by Mary Corpening Barber, Sara Corpening and Lori Lyn Narlock. Photographs © 1997 by Frankie Frankeny.

Raincoast Publishing, Vancouver, BC and Gibbs Smith, Layton, Utah for Goat Cheese by Maggie Foard. Text © 2008 Maggie Foard. Photographs © Lori Sang Hsu and Harlan Chapman

Raincoast Publishing, Vancouver, BC and Gibbs Smith, Layton, Utah for Tamales by Daniel Hoyer. Text © 2008 Daniel Hoyer. Photographs © 2008 Marty Snortum.

Raincoast Publishers Vancouver and Chronicle Books San Francisco for Deep Dark Chocolate by Sara Perry with Jane Zwinger. Text © 2008 Sara Perry. Photographs © 2008 France Ruffenach.

Happily enjoyed by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Download this article in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (131 KB)




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