Wednesday, December 24, 2008

How To Order Your Eggs Without Fear

One of the lesser, but frequent challenges for the expat in Mexico is ordering eggs in a restaurant. If you are fussy about how you want them cooked, as many are, you should read the following primer about getting your eggs the way you want.
But before anything else, I want to confront head on the nearly apocryphal mysteries of the double meaning of the word, "huevos". While it's true that it also has a second meaning of "testicles", or more accurately, "balls", the visiting gringo or savvy expat should not worry about evoking snickers or even guffaws from the waitstaff. The staff deals with eggs all morning, and if they were constantly snickering, they'd have no time or energy left to serve customers. That sort of humor, and also about chiles (a potent phallic symbol) is best relegated to the humorous repertoire of small boys and barely pubescent adolescents.

Nota bien: if you accompany your ordering with sign language, you may provoke humor. If you personalize your order, you run further risks. For example, don't say, "I'll have your eggs, fried, and over easy."
That's personalizing it. You just want "
huevos estrellados."
Common Pitfalls In Ordering Eggs
1. "Huevos al Gusto", literally, "eggs to your pleasure", but really "eggs to order".
Don't make the mistake of a one of our visiting friends and say, "I'll have the huevos al gusto." The waiter will have to ask you again how you want them prepared.

2. "Huevos Estrellados", or eggs, sunnyside up. These are among the most popular. You need not accompany your request with elaborate sign language, making what seem to the waiter to be confusing and possibly humorous gestures. You have a better chance of getting them as you like if you use those two simple words. And, "por favor", of course.

3. "Huevos a la Mexicana": eggs scrambled with chopped chiles, tomatoes and onions. Simply, "eggs in the style of a Mexican woman". Try not to say, "huevos al MexicanO", which gives a simple order a new, special meaning.

4. "Eggs, over easy" aren't easy to order. Many restaurants don't get the concept. You have to ask for "huevos fritos volteados". I once mistakenly said, trying to be helpful to another breakfaster, "huevos revolcados", or something like, "knocked down eggs". Where did I get that?

If you are lucky, one of your breakfast companions will order eggs sunnyside up, using gestures, and his eggs will arrive revolcados, umm, volteados, and you can swap.

Let's move along quickly now. The following egg dishes are less fraught with peril:
5. "Huevos Rancheros": eggs sunnyside up, on top of a lightly fried tortilla or two, covered with a salsa picante. Why this is totally snigger free is a mystery.

6. "Huevos Divorciados." Sounds spicy, and they are: two eggs, estrellados, one in salsa verde and the other in salsa roja, on top of tortillas. This is a gringo favorite, especially those who have been in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

7. "Huevos revueltos": I almost forgot them! Scrambled eggs. They are seldom cooked as I like, so I do not order them while breakfasting out.

8. "Omeleta" Sounds like "omelet", and it is. Usually made with two eggs, and filled "al gusto". What does
"al gusto" mean? Class???
"As you like.", that's right. Muy bien.

So, you will need to specify what you want in it. "Tocino" (bacon), "queso", (cheese); "cebolla" (onion), et cetera. Omelets are usually attractively garnished with onion, tomato and avocado, so you get a bonus for your breakfast pesos.

Special hint: The Omeleta de espárragos, cebolla, nopal y queso at the Gran Hotel Café in Pátzcuaro is a delight.

9. "Huevos Albañil", or "Stonemason's eggs"; scrambled eggs drowned in a very spicy sauce. Order this, as I do, when you want to be a cool, Old Mexico Hand.

10. Poached eggs: in general, don't even try, unless you are in the restaurant of an international hotel. My Spanish-English digital dictionary yields the word, "escalfar" for "poached", but we have had some limited success with "huevos pocheados". Don't get your hopes up. Please
, whatever you do don't call them "huevos pochos".

There are other ways of preparing eggs, but the above listed are among the most commonly encountered. For further information, sign up for our advanced Huevos Clase.

Always be polite, and say "Por favor" and "gracias" at appropriate times. Try to keep gestures and especially sign language to the minimum. They look rude.

Finally, try to remember that Patience Is A Virtue, and that glitches in service do not occur only in Mexico. I'll end with a video drama, made in an American diner, to keep things in perspective.

This is probably my last post of 2008. We'll be travelling to México D.F., Puebla, and then spending a couple of weeks on Oaxaca. I hope to be observing, tasting and even cooking while we are there. With luck and energy, I'll report back on our experiences.
May you have una Feliz Navidad y Provechoso Año Nuevo 2009!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Chile Verde y Queso Potato Knishes

We were invited to a Winter Solstice Party last night at Ed 'n Lyns' house.
I decided to make something different as part of our contribution to the festivities: Green Chile and Cheese Potato Knishes.

The basic recipe was one I'd downloaded from Only the filling varied from the original. I also used about a kilo of potatoes and only two medium white onions instead of the prescribed 5 pounds of the former and two pounds of the latter.

After mashing the potatoes with the fried onions, I added 4 medium sized roasted, peeled and seeded Chiles Poblanos, chopped coarsely.

After letting the mixture cool, I added about 5 ounces (well, it was half of a small wheel) of grated Queso Panela from Cremería Aguascalientes. That creamery makes high quality dairy products. So far, I've found their range of cheeses, butter and crema in Mega Comercial in Morelia. One could substitute muenster or cheddar or even mozzarella cheese with no dire effects.

I followed the makeup and handling instructions, and it was the easiest I'd ever done. The dough is supple and easy to work with.
The baking time was longer that expected; about 30 minutes at 375º F, but that could be in part due to our high altitude. They emerged looking a lot like the Potato Knishes in this eGullet photo

There were a few hours between the baking and serving times, so after the trays of knishes cooled (the recipe yielded 46, and I had a few cups of filling leftover.), I consolidated them on two baker's half sheet pans, covered with heavy duty aluminum foil.

When we arrived at the party scene, another guest found a place for the pans on a wood burning grill. Before long, he passed around the now very hot knishes.

Not only were they hot from the grill, they had a zesty picante kick. A serendipitous touch was the subtle tinge of wood smoke from the grill that infused the knishes.

These were so good that I'm thinking of making a half batch of dough to uses up the reminder of the filling and freeze them.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Bananas With Bones and Nervi-Oxin

Last Friday, we were waiting out on the zagúan (porch) of la Presidencia in Tzintzuntzan (sort of our county seat), while the young couple to whose wedding we'd been invited filled out sheaves of papeleo or paperwork.

A vendor carring a cloth bag came up to us and made his quiet pitch for the medicinal and beneficial qualities of the large, black "huesos", or seeds in plastic bags.
huesos came from the unusual looking plátanos he carried to demo his spiel. Ten seeds in a liter of water was said to benefit the kidneys and alleviate other organs' ailments. A bag would suffice for a month or more of treatments.

I passed up this unusual health opportunity, as I am saving my pesos for three bottles of El Tónico Nervi-Oxin. There's a truck that drives up into our rancho at irregular intervals. His spiel is loud and persistent. I'm just about convinced that Nervi-Oxin will help me sleep better, settle my stomach, etc. One hundred pesos gets you three bottles of that wonder tonic, which seems to cure everything. I'd give it a try if I could get a sample or demo bottle.

I collect various gritos or spiels from the mobile vendors, but I didn't get a decent recording of the Nervi-Oxin guy. I'll try again and when I can figure out how to upload it, I'll do so for my blog audience's listening pleasure.
If I do take that tonic, I'll give a thorough review of its eficacy. (I'm guessing that the número uno ingrediente, after water, is alcohol.)

Friday, December 05, 2008

A Bowl of Frijoles

One week to the day after a sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner at the home of our friends in Tzurumútaro, the DuBosques, we were invited to another comida. Yesterday's meal was at the Las Cuevas home of una amiga, María de La Luz. She'd invited us to share a simple meal, along with two VIP guests from the local Vo-Tech School. We arrived on time, but the Vo-Tech people, traveling independently, were delayed by other matters for several hours.

We chatted and sampled the food as it simmered in clay cazuelas.
We stepped outside to take in the warmth of the sun and to admire the newly acquired chickens. We looked out over the beautiful valley and surrounding, still green clad mountains.

Finally, hunger caught up with us
at 4:00. Susan and I went inside and sat down at the kitchen table, covered with a lacy tablecloth protected by a plastic cover. The kitchen is sparsely decorated with cups and mugs hanging on the walls, but well ventilated. There's a false ceiling of plywood below the tiled roof, with openings to the area under the sloping, tejas covered roof. The floor is concrete.

The meal consisted of pinkish-brown beans cooked with salt and a little chile güero, a relatively mild yet sufficiently picante addition to gringo palates. I didn't notice any herbs or meat or spices.

On top of the frijoles were nopalitos cooked with tomatoes, onion, garlic, chiles and salt, which added their tangy flavor to the mellow beans. Bowls of a rather picante salsa verde were on the table, as well as a small wheel of queso fresco for crumbling onto the frijoles or for making tacos.

Essential to this meal were the tortillas hechas a mano, cooked on a comal over a wood fire. Many homes in the area where we live have kichens attached to or detached from the house, where smoky fires lend savor to otherwise simple daily foods. These are where to roast chiles, cook moles, and make tortillas. The flavor of foods cooked on the comales sobre el lumbre cannot be duplicated on a gas range.

An added benefit, according to María de La Luz, is that it's a good place to be on cold mornings, close to the wood fire. Moreover, the making of tortillas by hand has a soothing effect on the maker. I think the repetitive and
tactile work connects la cocinera with her mamá y abuelas who are no longer living.

The proof of the frijoles is in the eating. They were simple, tasty and satisfying. The tortillas were infused with the smoke of tradition.

We gave gracias to our amiga and when we left, the anticipated VIPs still had not arrived.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

El Horno de Los Suenos

El Horno de Los Sueños

(From the My Mexican Kitchen archives of 2006.)

MORELIA, Michoacán, México — In a working-class, commercial colonia of Morelia, México, the bakery artisans of the Horno de Los Ortiz would seem to have fairy tale ovens. Great lumps of dough are transformed daily into edible fantasies. Apples are lovingly prepared and wrapped in puff pastry, and sweet dough is filled and made into gargantuan bear claws. To the delight of children and their parents, pastry mice line up in ranks in the shop windows, later to be boxed in their “Swiss cheese wedge” cartons. The shop windows are fairytale scenes, with the mice scurrying amidst woodland shelf fungi, all crafted from bread dough. Inside the showroom, there are Brobdingnagian “guangoches,” rustic “seed sacks” of Danish pastry tied with binder twine and filled with a rich blend of sweetened cheeses, fresh apple slices and apple marmalade.

But it is at the holiday times that the Familia Los Ortiz truly realizes its craft. The spacious and lofty hall of the bakery building helps to liberate the creative minds and adept hands of the Ortizes, unconfined by convention, yet still guided by tradition. They are listening to selected music as they work, as they always do. Hugo Ortiz says that instead of timers, the bakers sing songs to calculate the baking time. At the approach of El Día de Los Muertos, they design and cut murals of papel picado in themes of dancing calacas y Catrinas. Mexican Día de los Muertos tradition celebrates the return of the spirits of loved ones; but here it is done on a scale bigger than Death. The specialty is the “Pan de Muertos,” a round, sweet bread with subtle aromas of anise and orange and adorned with ropes of dough to resemble a skull with crossed bones.

La Reina de las Roscas

At the advent of La Navidad, the area in front of the massive dome of the horno de leña (wood-fired oven) is the stage for the elaborate nacimiento, or nativity scene. Hundreds of figures populate the scene, again, exquisitely hand made from bread dough.

When we first arrived at the bakery, on the last day of 2006, the bakers were busy producing Roscas de Reyes, the traditional Three Kings' Cakes served as the finale of the Christmas festivities. We had seen other roscas before, but these were dazzling. Judith Martínez, la dueña of the bakery, and her helper deftly cut the preserved fruits, whole figs and candied fruit peels into flowers and clusters of grapes that cover the entire surface of these very special cakes. These are not the common roscas adorned with colored sugar and sweet pastes alone. The popular rings of yeast-raised sweet dough of course have the traditional muñecos, or doll babies nestled inside, representing the infant Jesus.

Judith, the articulate spokeswoman for the business, explained that earlier bakeries were often dark, dirty, poorly ventilated, cellar workplaces. In fact, los conquistadores in Nueva España impressed prisoners to work in these dreary places as a special punishment. The Ortizes determined from the beginning that the working conditions in their taller would be the opposite. The origins of the panadería Horno Los Ortiz is rooted in three generations of panaderos, but it was only in 1989 that Sr. Hugo Ortiz and his wife, Judith, made their creative vision a reality. They first rented a small location in a gritty colonia on Morelia's south side. Two years of hard work and meager sales were their lot. They took their products to the street to give samples to passersby, who were not used to the Ortizes' generous style of baking. It was difficult for neighborhood clientele to accustom their shopping habits to purchasing bread in the day, instead of early morning. The Ortizes made large units of pan dulces rather than the smaller, more common ones. Hugo Ortiz told us that the larger pieces keep better, but are more expensive.

Today there is nothing corriente or ordinary in Horno Los Ortiz. All the breads are made from their own well-memorized recipes and baked daily. Gradually, as their local custom grew, a reputation for fine baking followed. Within two years, they were able to develop their dream of a large, airy, well-lit and artistic space. An architect friend worked with them to draw up the plans to fit their aesthetic concepts. They have woven the varied strands of bakery artesanía, music and tradition into a new experience for their clientele and for their workers. It isn't, of course, a dream without much hard work. The small, charming apartment they added above the shop is really a place for short rests in the busiest months, November through January.

For many years the Ortizes displayed their attractive products on plain, functional wooden tables. Within the last two years, they were able to remodel the interior into a more aesthetically pleasing space. The displays and customer service desk are made of handsome woods, ironwork and tile that complement the bakery products.

Hugo was born into a family of third generation bakers in Ciudad Hidalgo, in eastern Michoacán, not far from the famed Santuarios de Las Mariposas Monarcas. Judith comes from a family of La Tierra Caliente farmers who baked at home. Their food preparations were based on an economy of scarcity. They did without refrigeration, electricity and piped-in water. The daily food preparation employed many methods of preserving foods. Containers in which to hang cheeses were made of woven bamboo strips. From her childhood, Judith worked to satisfy her curiosity of the harvesting, preparation and preservation of foods by natural means. The couple’s desire to keep to the natural processes learned in childhood is part of what drives the Ortizes’ métier today. You won't find the magnificent Roscas de Reyes available on the shelves for immediate purchase. They must be ordered in advance of your holiday fiestas. Judith and her staff make no extras for walk-in sales. This past Christmas season, the large, richly adorned rings sold for $220 MN each. (About $20 USD each).

For the occasion of the bakery’s 20th anniversary, the Ortizes commissioned an audio CD with 11 tracks of original songs by noted local and international artists. It is packaged in a handsome slipcover with a booklet explaining the songs and a brief history of the Horno Los Ortiz dream. Hugo modestly describes their work as “artesanía,” not “art.” He tried to find the words to explain the distinction. “Art ... is ... something greater,” he said. I don't know if either of us can separate the two. At la Panadería Horno Los Ortiz, they are indistinguishable.

Go to the Panadería Horno de Los Ortiz in the late afternoon, when the shelves are being loaded with still-warm goods from the ovens. Besides the Alice-in-Wonderland menagerie of pastry mice, lagartitos or pastry lizards, and coiled snakes, you will be enticed by rich cinnamon rolls the size of salad plates. You will also be tempted by a large selection of fruit-filled coffee cakes, giant bear claws and the more traditional conchas and molletes. But here are the coveted baked apples wrapped in hojaldre. They are simple but delicious and irresistible to the customers who crowd the store late in the day, vying for the remaining manzanas.

Location and Contact information:
El Horno Los Ortiz (matriz)
Avenida Vicente Santamaría 1077
Colonia Ventura Puente
Morelia, Michoacán, México
Tel: (433) 312-3317
Hours: 12 noon to 11 PM daily, 365 days a year.

El Horno Los Ortiz (sucursal)
Calzada Madero 1196,
Centro Histórico, Morelia, Michoacán, México

Getting There:
If you are staying in the Historic Center, or perhaps at one of the fine hotels on the Santa María ridge, I suggest taking a taxi, particularly at night.

There's a more recent and very well done blog on this topic by Deb Hall at Zocalo de Mexico Folk Art, with emphasis on Día de los Muertos at Horno Los Ortiz. That inspired me to publish this.
Photos from 2004

Photos by Geni Certain. Click to see larger.

Music of the Spheres by Music of the Spheres

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Comfort Food for Expats: Meatloaf

There are few dishes easier to make and as satisfying to eat as a good meat loaf. It is not hard to make it in a kitchen in Mexico. You'll need a reliable oven.

(Photo from Internet)

For the meat loaf itself, I like a combination of 2/3rds lean ground beef and 1/3 ground pork. Speak with your butcher. Get the meat freshly ground to order. Ask him for some additional fat, "para que el pastel de carne salga jugoso."

For filler, I prefer dry breadcrumbs. Seasoning varies according to my mood, but I always use minced onion, garlic, s&p, Worcester Sauce, and at least one dried herb.
Today I used oregano, because that's what I had.

A couple of eggs to bind it together and some milk to moisten the breadcrumbs*. Topping: I really like it with a brown gravy, but that's hard to generate from meatloaf pan drippings. You could cleverly improvise a brown gravy with those Costilla Jugosa cubes made by Knorr-Suiza and sold in better supermercados. Last time I made it, I went the second best way, and coated the top with Heinz ketchup and three strips of good, hickory smoked bacon. While the not-crisp bacon detracts somewhat from the meatloaf flavor, it is mighty good to nibble on just before scarfing the meat loaf itself.

Baking container: I don't like the results when it's cooked in a loaf pan, so I always cook it in a baking tray with sides. It browns on all sides this way. If I'd only remembered to lay down some parchment paper first, it would have been an easier clean up. Typical baking time to doneness averages 1 hour at 350º F.

The above meat loaf had been pre-tested by a panel of one; a small slice nestled into a warm, freshly baked potato roll, and a squirt of ketchup more. I immodestly give the combination 4 stars out of a possible 5. Brown gravy would have probably gotten it a 5.

*Once, long ago, while a Cook Specialist 6 in the Missouri Army National Guard, we made a huge batch of meat loaves using sweetened colored cereals, such as Froot Loops and Cap'n Crunch. The results were well-received by the men in our unit. But that was before my tastes had matured. ;-)

With meatloaf, some real mashed potatoes, enriched with butter and half and half or even evaporated milk is traditional. A touch of freshly grated nutmeg is nice. (nuez de moscada) Fresh green beans (ejotes) are a nice contrast if cooked crisp-tender.

Have some fresh, sliced white or whole wheat bread, or better, some potato rolls on hand so you can make sandwiches later on.

Maybe I'll give a recipe for potato rolls next.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Apopos Blancos; Limones Amarillos

I've been pretty consumed lately by the U.S. election, the growing violence in México, and the collapse of the U.S. and world economy. Not that there's much I could do about them. But I still can write about foods we've encountered, eaten and cooked.

Today I have only a few short, food-related comments to make here.

On Tuesday, I stopped in to say hello to our friends at the Mesón de San Antonio Hotel in Pátzcuaro. La Señora, Lupe, gave me a generous gift of limones from their trees and a huge bag of chayotes blancos, which I soon learned are locally called apopos. These are the more delicate cousins of the pale green chayotes and the infamous spiny chayotes verdes. (Below)

I washed 4 to 6 of the apopos, cut them in quarters, and added them to a Sopa de Verduras I was simmering. The end result is very delicate, with the nut-like seed relished by conocedores.

I realized that there was no way we were going to be able to consume so many apopos ourselves, so when an opportunity arose, I gave them away. Our landlady, Sra. Chucha, was coming up the street to her house with her sister, also Lupe, and another friend. Sra. Chucha was very glad to receive the apopos, for not only would she cook some, she planned to plant a few so that she could add this fruit to next year's food crops.

After the sister and friend left, she and Mateo continued sorting the huge costales, (gunny sacks) woven of coarse but handsome cloth, full of this year's harvest of recently dried frijoles. This task was done while kneeling or squatting on the concrete patio floor
Their family friend Casimiro (and probably a relative) had presorted them, but they did not meet Chucha's strict standards. Thus, they sorted them over again, atop a guangoche, a coarsely woven square of cloth with cloth "handles" at each corner, in order to let the dirt sift out, while they laboriously picked out small stones and twigs. As the pile of cleaned frijoles grew, Mateo scooped them up into a well made wooden box with interlocking dadoed (? I am not a woodworker) corners. Twenty boxes full and the new costal was filled.
There's a special term for a costal de veinte medidas, but unfortunately, no lo entendí.

As they worked, I was thinking of my camera, sitting in the house 200 feet away, but I thought it somewhat discourteous to run home to get it. Besides, I was tired.

Our neighbors broke out about a kilo of the colorful, mixed frijoles to give us. I'm cooking some today with salt, a little garlic, and chopped onion. They smell great.

We made a brief trip today to the Patzcúaro mercado, where we found an older and a younger man, selling teleras rolls. The younger man had the task of wearing the massive woven straw basket on his head, while the older man, ignoring the tongs, would fill the plastic bags for the customers with his hands. I filled my own. These rolls, 4 pesos each, are nicely formed, well browned, with a decent crust; not like the sloppy work that passes for teleras in a nearby, well-known and popular bakery. The older man told me the name of his panadería twice, but I didn't understand it. I did understand that it's located near the Central bus station, that the bread is hearth-baked (with no intervening baking sheet between the bread and the hearth); and the oven is wood-fired. I'd never seen these folks before, but I will be looking for them again.*

We will heat up some albóndigas al chipotle from our freezer, make tortas de albóndigas; have some frijoles, possibly some (green chard), and that's our comida para hoy.

The last item for today was the surprising discovery of a stand in the mercado that had yellow lemons available. These are rare in Mexico. Because we'd just received a kilo or two of regular limones verdes, I only bought 4 limones amarillos. When we got home, I cut one open. The flesh is pale green, and the aroma is a bit different from the yellow lemons to which we're accustomed, but these are very close.

Buen provecho.

*Follow up on those rolls: although they looked good, and had a nice toasted exterior, the crumb was as bland as any. Most of all, they lacked salt. They served well with a big bowl of Caldo de Res y Verduras, but I won't be looking for them again.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Cardenal Virtues; Cardenal Sins

We'd considered 3 restaurants in the Centro Histórico for our "splurge" meal. One, El Círculo Vasco Español features mostly Spanish cuisine during the week, but on weekends offers an extensive buffet of seafood for $179 pesos pp. We actually went up and looked at it. At just after one in the afternoon, the chafers and cold dishes were filled, covered and waiting for guests to arrive. That there were no guests yet was just an indication that Mexicans eat at later hours than Norteamericanos, but the idea of chafing dish seafood "on hold" held little appeal for me.
The other restaurant, on Isabel La Católica, a block south of our hotel, was the palatial Casino Español, a place of grandeur if there ever was one. (Panorama QuickTime Movie of Stairs.) There are actually two dining rooms there. The ground floor room, "El Mesón" is very simple in decor, with Venetian blinds and dominated by a Coke cooler, and has a slightly less expensive menú del día than the sunny yellow upstairs dining room, with linen tablecloths and nice looking wineglasses. However, the upstairs dining room is not necessarily dressy, as I was assured by Ruth Alegría ("Ruth in Condechi") on the Mexico forum.
But in the end, I felt that the menú of the day (less than $120 pesos) was rather restrained (although one could order a la carta instead.), so we postponed a meal there for another trip.
We decided on the third candidate of our short list.
El Cardenal is a classic, downtown, suited business persons' clubby dining spot. The ambience is conservative and genteel. Now it also seems also opened to nicely dressed,. well-behaved tourists like us and people wearing printed T-shirts. To accomodate the influx, the operators have used yield management to squeeze maximum income out of the three floors of dining rooms. They are connected by both stairs and elevator. Smartly dressed hostesses equipped with walkie-talkies dispatch customers to the tables as they become available.

Thus it was that we were seated almost in front of the elevator, on the third floor. The atmosphere in the corridor was somewhat sterile, but we could focus on the food and generally ignore the less than stellar seating. (I'll concede that we came on a busy Saturday afternoon.)

Our waiter brought us a Molcajete de Queso Fresco, Aguacate, y Salsa Fresca Verde. (It came unbidden, but it later appeared on our bill. Fortunately, it was very good and only cost $25 pesos, the cheapest thing we ate.) There was also a basket of pretty good bread and pastry sesame sticks.

Susan ordered an Ensalada Oscar (Butter lettuce, tomato slices, a little onion, and three generous slices of very good goat cheese. Olive oil and vinegar were available to dress the salad to taste); Sopa de Pescado y Nopal (a clay pot carrying a flavorsome fish stock, garlic, onion, fish chunks and nopal, with a touch of chile); Cazuela de Róbalo y Epazote (almost a reprise of the soup, but more chunks of fish, a more concentrated brown broth, and lots of fresh leaves of epazote); a dish of rice on the side, which she skipped.)

I ordered Tacos de Pato (very good, meaty duck tacos, accompanied by a small dish of very good guacamole. I shared the tacos with Susan).
Main course; Róbalo en Barbacoa. (Fillet of sea bass coated with chile, baked in parchment and a touch of beer.) Very good. Rice.

I ordered dessert: Pastel de La Casa (several layers of mocha-raspberry cake; good but quite unnecessary. Cafe Espresso; not good.

We shared a half bottle of a Spanish white wine. It was very nice, but it didn't go very far, of course.
(I didn't take photos, an exercise of self restraint in these upscale surroundings, but the birthday celebrants at the table behind us freely took many shots. The payoff was when three suited troubadours with guitars came to them and sang a beautiful rendition of "Las Mañanitas". I enjoyed a free ride on that performance.)

We were contemplating the tip for the pretty good service, when the check came with the tip already printed in. It was in the near vicinity of what we would have given, perhaps a bit more generously if on our own.

You may draw your own conclusions.

My conclusions: very good food, good enough service, poor treatment in the customer relations area (bad seating; unordered add-on; tip already printed on cc slip, waiting for signature.) But overall. we were pleased with the meal. On the other hand, our previous breakfast there, although simpler (and far less expensive) seemed more gracious.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Mexico City: Will Walk For Food

Last weekend, we went to Mexico City to mark my 66th birthday with, umm, cultural activities and feasting.

The cultural part was pretty much limited to looking at and photographing the exteriors of Colonial Era churches, listening to the organ grinders and a lot of walking through the Centro Histórico.

The feasting part got off to a halting start with a stop at Bar Cantina La Montañosa, on Calle Las Palmas; listed in Nicholas Gilman's book, Good Food in Mexico City. The bar has a raffish scene, and the "free" food that comes with the purchase of a drink was o.k. but nothing special. A meal of one Caldo de Camarón and one Coctél de Seviche de Abulón accompanied by two Cervezas Victoria was $70 pesos.

Unfulfilled, we walked many blocks westward to an old favorite, the Taquería Tlaquepaque. We made a mistake this time in ordering very large assortments of tacos or taco fixings, which in the first instance ranged from ordinary to repugnant; and in the second case, passable but excessive. If we were to return (and I think that next time, we'd choose El Huequito instead.)

On the walk back, we found the strength to stop in at the fabulous Pastelería Ideal on Av. 16 de Septiembre. It was Friday afternoon, and the place was jammed, as citizens chose pastries and breads from the mind-boggling assortment on the hectares of self-service display tables.

At the checkout and wrapping counter, the crowd was so thick that I had to hold my tray high to avoid hitting other waiting customers in the head.
I always enjoy shopping in the Ideal, even when it's crowded. (Maybe more so.)

The next day, Saturday, we organized our itinerary better. We started out with fresh juices at Jugos Canadá; one Nopal combo and one Mandarina. Both were very good. We stopped at Cafe Jekimir on Isabel La Católica at Regina for some first rate coffee; then another long walk westward to Calle Ayuntamiento at Calle Luis Moya and the Restaurante San José, where we had a decent breakfast. We'd been to this restaurant twice in past years. It's just a neighborhood place, serving local folks. Since then, it's undergone a makeover, in knotty pine with sepia tinted photos from the Revolucíon era.

Restored, we sought the Mercado San Juan, whose entrances are hidden on a side street, Calle Ernesto Pugibet, one block south of Ayuntamiento, just west of the park of the same name and under the shadow of the Torre Telmex.

The medium sized market is notable for its high quality products, specializing in Spanish style embutidos; wild mushrooms in season, fresh Asian vegetables (I bought some beautiful ginger root at only $26 pesos a kilo.), pristine seafood and specialty meats. There were also some fine looking Spanish style breads. I felt constrained to buy only a couple of cans of "La Chinata" Pimentón de La Vera, which was a great find, at only $30 pesos a can.

Our walk back took us to Puros Hermanos Petrides, purveyors of fine, Mexican cigars for over 70 years. Calle Rep. de Uruguay, 22-A. The cordial staff assisted me in making a selection.

We'd done a lot of research on where to have our big, splurge meal, and after looking over the menus of two
Spanish restaurants, (one a seafood buffet), ended up making a reservation at El Cardenal. We'd had a wonderful breakfast there last April, and now wanted to try dinner.
We returned to our lodgings, the stylishly Art Deco Hotel Gillow, to clean up and rest.

To be continued...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Baker Man of Patzcuaro

Nearly every day, Alejandro the Baker Man comes out of his family's home bakery with the glass and wood showcase on his head. He deftly moves the case from the folded towel pad on his head to a "tijeras", or scissor stand. He makes his rounds of Pátzcuaro's Plazas.
The case is full of little pastry treats, the best of which are Empanaditas de Carne, delicate, hot turnovers, filled with picadillo or tuna. The thick, crumbling shortbread polvorones are super, still warm from the oven. 

Today, I met his father, Javier, who also sells the same baked goods and who taught Alejandro how to make them and sell them. Javier told me that all their products are artesanal and made by hand, without machines, then baked in an horno de barro. We are regular customers, and I can count on Alejandro to show up several times in the late morning and early afternoon, particularly at the corner of Calle Ibarra and Plaza Vasco Quiroga. The empanadas are available in a variety of sweet fillings as well, among them leche, coco o piña. Among the products are envinados or "rum cakes", "cream puffs" filled with cajeta, and especially, a moist, crumbly pastel de naranja.

Javier and his son Alejandro offer some of the true street food treasures of Pátzcuaro. I recommend their product to you. Look for them.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Super Higos

Fine fat fecund figs DuBosque. Super Higos.

Really, they are from a tree in the patio of our friends, the DuBosques. These, are indeed, "Super Higos". They are good to eat out of hand or halved and served with a dollop of crema.

They gave us several kilos of bursting, ripe fruit. The first batch went into a Fig Tart on an Almond Frangipane base with a sweet pastry crust.

For a Labor Day Weekend cookout, I wrapped each whole fig in a half slice of Wright's Thick Sliced Hickory Smoked Bacon. (We get it at Sam's Club in Morelia.)

Note the grilling basket in the above photo. It keeps precious morsels of crisping bacon from falling into the coals of the grill. While they grilled, I prepared a very simple reduction of balsamic vinegar with rosemary. When it was reduced to half its original volume, I strained it and added a tablespoon of dark, local honey and some black pepper. As the wrapped figs were done, they were passed into the shallow pool of balsamic sauce.

I'd researched goat cheese stuffed bacon-wrapped figs on the Web, and I'm sure that they are great, but this approach was very easy. The guests loved them.

Below is a video clip of "Women In Love" that may be the final word on figs and their eating.
Note: this video may not be workplace-safe.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Dining Ambiance: whats it worth?

I've often said that in regard to restaurant dining, food and service were important; ambiance didn't matter. I'd now modify that opinion to say that food and service were most important, and atmosphere also counts, but coming in at third place.

I'll illustrate this with two examples, although the the restaurants have almost nothing in common.

I recently had breakfast with the Men's Group at the Hostería de San Felipe in Pátzcuaro.

San Felipe comedor

This is a "Categoría Especial" hotel, and the grounds and dining room reflect a lot of thought and care in design. For the first time in my memory, a U-shaped table layout enabled the group to converse more easily. The linens and table coverings were attractive. The dining room itself, although a bit dark, was warm and comfortable. It looks like a nice place to have dinner. The service was a little confused, but not unredeemable. The food, in my opinion, was passable but nothing distinguished.

Two thirds of the guests received orange juice, the other third did not. I requested it and it arrived promptly. It was fine.

The coffee was weak but just drinkable. The first bread that arrived was packaged toast slices, jam and real butter. Later, baskets of sliced teleras arrived.

I ordered what was billed as Costilla de Res con Chilaquiles. It turned out to be a really tough but tasty carne asada with some pretty good chilaquiles. Eating the carne asada was a workout. (I accepted the carne asada instead of the advertised costilla, because in these group breakfast situations, it's usually best to take what comes —if it is, indeed, your order. Otherwise you may wait a long time.)

The bill, averaged out among us was $75 MXP, including tip. That's a bit higher than average for the group breakfasts, which range from $40 upwards to $80.

My conclusion is that this was a case of paying for an upscale setting but not getting good value for our pesos in food and service.

Yesterday Susan and I went with our neighbor Larry R. to Mariscos La Güera Campestre, at kilometer 44.5 on the Pátzcuaro-Morelia highway. Susan and I had been there once before. (And of course, we've lost count of how many times we've eaten at the matriz, or main restaurant, on Av. Federico Tena in Pátzcuaro.

The new restaurant is very spacious, unlike the cozy series of rooms at the old place. There's even a separate outside dining location across the parking area. Where in the old place I get a feeling of warmth, the size of the new leaves me a bit uncomfortable.
True, it's an unfinished but functional space. It's a big barn hangar of a dining room.
I realize that it's a work in progress. In fact, workmen were adding metal panels to the roof when we entered and sat down. Some of the seating is on "Lifetime" folding chairs, others are inexpensive plastic Corona or Coke chairs. They are reasonably comfortable.

Now, the food we've had on two occasions is fine, the service congenial and reasonably efficient. On this visit, Larry and I both ordered Mojarra al Mojo de Ajo, a great deal at $42 MXP. It includes salad, rice, French bread and all the plain tostadas you want with bottled salsa. (One of the quirks of La Güera is that they don't normally provide any salsa cruda or verde, but they do have a wide variety of salsa in bottles.)

The mojarra was generous in size, the meat moist and flavorsome, the garlic in large, golden brown pieces, the rice well prepared and tasty, and nicely presented on the usual backdrop of fresh cucumber, tomato, orange, shredded carrots and lettuce with a few rings of purple onion.

Susan said her Caldo de Mariscos was very good, with a good stock, and all the seafood was fine, except for the vastly overcooked section of crab. (Not that crab is not even on the menu.)

The bill for the three of us, for one coctel de camarones mediano, one caldo de mariscos chico, two mojarras al mojo, five limonadas came to $268, plus tip. I'd say that's an excellent value.

Given a choice of Hostería de San Felipe with its warm and cozy atmosphere, or the big, oversized "hangar" of a seafood restaurant on the highway, I'd definitely opt for La Güera. But of course, I'm a known devotee of La Güera. And, at least for now, if choosing the old La Güera or the Campestre, I'd take the old.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Soups For Soupy Weather

Even in the middle of July, we enjoy a cool, moist climate here, near Patzcuaro, Michoacán, Mexico . We are blessed by an altitude of about 2,200 meters above sea level. So, except in the hotter, dryer months of April and May, a soup is nearly always appropriate.

I had an abundance of vegetables purchased at the mercado; calabacitas, potatoes, carrots, green beans, chayote; two liters of light chicken stock, and an abundance of fresh basil in our garden. What could be more appropriate than Soupe Au Pistou?

I did a web search for a simple version of this Provençal soup, and the one on Food Network looked optimal. I only had to make a few small changes. I especially appreciated that their pistou or pesto had no tomato paste in it, which, although it might be "authentic", detracts from the fresh, herbal taste of a nice basil pesto.

This is their ingredient list:
1/3 cup dry white beans (navy or Great Northern), washed

2 garlic cloves, peeled
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch fresh basil, leaves only
1 cup (4 ounces) freshly grated Gruyere or Parmesan cheese

2 small red potatoes, with skins
1 large carrot, peeled
1 small onion
1 small zucchini, with skin
1 small yellow crookneck squash, with skin
1 stalk of celery, peeled
1 large tomato, peeled, and seeded
1/4 pound green beans

8 cups chicken stock or canned broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
(For instructions, follow the Food Network link).

I subbed 1 chayote (mirliton) for the crookneck squash, essentially doubled the vegetable quantities, used sliced canned "stewed" tomatoes for the fresh tomato; for the beans, I'd previously cooked several cups of large white alubias, seasoned with salt, olive oil and a couple of bay leaves. Some of the cooking broth from these beans went into the final soup.

I cooked the green beans separately, to give me better control of its doneness, and besides, I had more green beans than the soup needed.

I also cooked some short pasta shapes in a separate pot; putting a few large spoonfuls of the cooked, drained and rinsed pasta in each large bowl, then generously ladling vegs and soup over, and finishing with a dollop of pesto.

The soup itself is "nice", a bit bland, but the pesto, redolent of garlic, Parmesan type cheese and especially, fresh basil, lifted it beyond the mundane.

A few days before, I composed a Michoacán version of a Vietnamese soup, Pho Gai.

It was was another sterling creation, combining principles of Southeast Asian cuisine with a Mexican chicken and a bag of reddi-2-cook soup vegetables. The latter are a great convenience food for soups, freshly cut vegetables in a bag, purchased in the mercado for prices varying from a few pesos to $15 pesos.

First, I made a seasoned stock from carrots, scorched onions and garlic, sliced fresh ginger, celery and a few spices. Black pepper, star anise, allspice berries, a few cloves. Then juice and rind of a small lime. Some Southeast Asian Fish Sauce. Brought to a boil and simmered 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in another pot, I put half of a cut up chicken in with some cold water and (belatedly), some sea salt. I brought this to a boil, simmered less than 10 minutes, and turned off the heat. I left the chicken in this covered pot about 2 hours, then removed it. When cool, skinned and boned it. I reserved that cooking liquid for a later use: the Soupe Au Pistou.!

Next day, I reheated the spiced vegetable stock, adjusted seasoning with more salt, Fish Sauce and a dash of white wine vinegar. When it came to a boil, I tossed in the contents of the bag of reddi-2-cook vegs. Simmered until almost tender, then in went large shreds of cooked chicken plus cooked carrots.

Meanwhile, in another pot of boiling water, I dropped in a 14 oz. bag of tapioca noodles. Thick rice noodles are more usual, but to me, the tapioca noodles taste about the same: neutral. I was surprised at how long these took to get tender. But after cooking about 12 minutes, I just let them soak in the hot water, and they were fine. Then drained and rinsed with cold water.

Meanwhile, Susan prepared the two salad plates: on one plate, fresh Romaine lettuce leaves (lechuga orejona); on the other, fresh mint, basil, cilantro, sliced knob onion. separately: lime halves and further separate, one sliced green chile serrano.

We served the soup and noodles, and had Sriracha and Hoisin Sauces for those who wanted. None of us put Hoisin sauce in. For me, it's just too overwhelming for a Pho.

It was very pleasant and herbal; satisfying without being heavy. I had a small bowl again for supper, and on the following day, we had it for breakfast.

(Photos from other Web sources.)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Gringo Finds Dog Biscuit In Orégano!

(This will be my shortest post, ever. Promise.)

I was just sprinkling some orégano Mexicano into a pizza sauce, when I found a tiny dog biscuit.

I'm assuming it was meant for a
perrito Chihuahueño or perhaps another breed, the pre-Hispanic esquintle.

What to do?? Pick it it out and continue.

bisquitito chiquitito was in the orégano, because the two costales (sacks) were side by side in the mercado where I bought the herb. There is no product quality control testing lab for mercado produce.

¡Ándale, pues!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Up In Smoke

A cook's ambition grows ever more grandiose, marked by the purchase of new cooking equipment. In my case, it was a Kingsford Barrel Charcoal Cooker.

Beware, beware of hubris. Hubris is defined here as "over wienie pride." Do not ignore portentous omens.

My tentative, vastly hubristic menu plan was the following:
Assorted grilled Spanish and Argentine style chorizos (Spicy sausages)
Home baked cornmeal buns and rolls. Our friend, Bruce, would also bring teleras from the Panadería La Espiga. (If he could find the unmarked bakery in the maze of side streets. He couldn't. Ni modo.)
Assorted condiments, sliced fresh tomatoes, sliced red onions, chipotle mayonnaise, etc.

Salads: Mediterranean Bean Salad, which I made a day before.
American Style Macaroni Salad.(One of the best macaroni salads ever.)
Sliced Cucumbers and Onions in Sweetened Vinegar.

Grilled assorted vegs: (I couldn't get eggplant, but we had tomatoes, knob onions, baby zucchini, a couple of nopal pads (prickly pear cactus pads/leaves) and, not to forget, huge Portobello Mushrooms.

Dessert would be grilled pineapple with ginger rum marinade.

Drinks: beer, Tequila, various miscellaneous local brews, such as Tepache or Ginger Beer. We passed on the ginger beer and the nasty batch of tepache in favor of Grolsch and Agua Fresca de Jamaica.

Four friends were invited for the launching of the Kingsford. Two had last minute delays and couldn't come. (We then decided against grilling the assorted sausages.)
The day had had several such small disasters. First the early morning blackout; then as we started cooking the grilled vegetables, a chubasco swept in, "an evil trick of nature", announcing with great drama the beginning of the rainy season.

As we retreated from the downpour, swarms of flies took shelter in our entryway, sampling the tapas on we'd been noshing. (Oh; I forgot to mention the hitherto unadvertised Tortilla Española that our friend Ron had brought; and the bits of the three cheeses and Spanish chorizo we had to accompany the Gringo Viejo Tequila that Bruce brought, and the impromptu Pimentón tasting we held.)

Once inside, Susan wrung herself out, and we continued.
The grilled vegetables were kept warm in a low heat oven. Bruce braved the fading squall to toast the Cornmeal Hamburger Buns out on the barrel cooker. I proceeded to cook the hamburgers in an iron skillet, with modest success.

Then we sat down and ate.
The vegetables, first brushed only with olive oil, then grilled, were excellent. They had received a light brushing of a parsley-basil pesto lemon sauce after cooking. The Portobellos were especially flavorsome.
The hamburgers were disappointing, but saved by melting Cheddar or Smoked Provolone on them, and slathering the buns with Quick Aiolí or Chipotle Mayo.

As the rain slowed then stopped, I went out to make dessert: spears of fresh pineapple, briefly marinated in rum and "Sichuan" Ginger Syrup, then grilled. That was a great finish to the meal.

(Although we sent our guests off with zip-locs loaded with salads and vegetables, we still ended up eating leftovers for the week. That was a pleasure, not a problem.)

Tortilla Española to begin and Grilled Pineapple with Ginger Rum Glaze* to finish.

*Here, the leftover pineapple served over warmed Gingerbread.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Had a BOING Lately?

There are some special added bonuses to riding intercity buses here, at least on the "AutoVías" lines, as from Pátzcuaro to Morelia. When the attractive hostess, standing outside the bus at her mobile desk checks your ticket, she also offers you a free agua purificada or a can of chilled Boing fruit drink. Who would reject such an offer and settle for water? Get a BOING in your bag. It will make that half of a sandwich de jamón y queso amarillo taste even better. So, sit back, and enjoy the movie with your BOING

(Obviously, the attractive bottled BOINGs, as pictured above, are impractical for the bus lines. So we settle for BOING in cans, and are content.)

This fruit-pulp bearing, "natural", non-carbonated drink was first brought to our attention by our distinguished and erudite friends, Sr. A., and his wife, Sra. G., in Pátzcuaro.

He told us of the social and labor aspects of the company, a worker-owned co-operative, one hundred percent Mexican ownership. He made a point of contrasting this desireable situation with that of "Coca Gúacala", described by him as "El agua negra del Imperio".

BOINGS are great.. According to the entertaining Pascual Boing website, it is available in the following flavors: Mango, Guayaba, Fresa, Manzana, Tamarindo, Naranja, Uva y Durazno.

For further reading, here's a article on the Cooperativa Pascual Boing.

For an alternative, skeptic's viewpoint, read here.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Cooking By Candlelight

México! It's SO romantic! You can even cook by candlelight.
Don't ask when; it'll be a surprise.

I do a lot of my baking and cooking prep early in the morning, durante la madrugada. (before dawn)
Apagones (blackouts) are not unknown.

Just a couple of hours ago, I was preparing American Macaroni Salad for a cookout on Sunday on our new, Kingsford Barrel Charcoal Cooker.

The coditos (elbow macs) were boiling and eggs were simmering, when BLANK. The lights flickered and went out. I got a flashlight, located the candles in the trastero (dish cabinet), and lit two, so I could at least finish and halt the cooking.

I definitely was not going to continue slicing and chopping vegetables and herbs in the dim light. I went back to bed for a snooze.

As daylight came, with its sweet, fresh breath, I continued. The Macaroni Salad is a good foil for the spicy grilled Spanish and Argentine style chorizos, hamburguesas,ensaladas and Verduras Asadas a la Parilla we and our guests will enjoy tomorrow.

For the full menu, see my more recent posting, "Up In Smoke",

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


Not every meal is a big deal. What you read here represents less than a tenth of the foods we eat.

The other morning, for example, I made tortillas de harina for Burritos de Papas y Chorizo. The chorizo was the kind made by, or for Tienda Don Chucho, in Pátzcuaro. It's meatier and less fattier than your usual butcher block scrapings.

Here are some breakfast burritos I made from that.

We're still working out the leftovers from this.

A few minutes ago, an ambulant vendor came by, selling dulces. Usually I don't buy this stuff, but this time, I was in the mood.

I got a nice, pale blonde cocada, or coconut ball. The usual cocada is very dark caramelized, with medium fine shreds of coconut. This one consists of wider strips. It's not as gooey as the usual. There's a faint taste of smoke to it, which pleases me, although it's a bit odd.

I also bought una palanqueta de cacahuates. This one is really good with lots of well-roasted peanuts in a brittle that may or may not be made of a brown sugar.

Yesterday I made Chiles Jalapeños En Escabeche, replacing the inferior, canned ones that had been in our fridge for untold months.
The technique follows. I posted it yesterday on an informal food forum.

For about 14 medium, green, fresh Chiles Jalapeños.
I sliced three ribs of celery, most of an onion in chunks, three peeled carrots sliced in medium rounds, 6 cloves of garlic peeled and lightly smashed ("cracked"). These are lightly fried in a large skillet with canola or other vegetable oil.

The washed, stemmed jalapeños are partially slit lengthwise in 3 places, then they pass through the hot skillet, tossing just until their skins start to blister lightly. The first vegs are returned to the pan of jalapeños and about 3 cups or so of boiling hot cider vinegar, a tablespoon of sea salt, a couple of cloves, also allspice and possibly a few black peppercorns are added. This is allowed to simmer barely a couple of minutes while a couple of pint or larger jars are cleaned and dried. The hot mixture is portioned into the jars, and if you like, a couple of drops of Asian Sesame Oil is added to each.

Wipe the rims and lid the jars. These are allowed to cool to room temp before refrigerating. They are "hot" but best eaten chilled. Eat cautiously. They should have some crunch left. (The best pickled Chiles Jalapeños locally are those served in Quiroga at the Carnitas stands on the Plaza. They are crunchy, hot, sour, and bite back. Just right to cut the luscious grease of lard-fried chunks of pig.)

It's a lazy, rest day around here, and that's all I have for now.

Note that if you can't see the photos, please tell me.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Ginger Binger

My fondness for ginger has deep roots. I've loved it especially in the candied or crystallized form. Fresh is nice, too, when used in cooking. Ground is fine for baking cookies and moist, molassesy ginger breads. There was once a great Ginger Ice Cream offered at Howard Johnson's, but no more.

Fortune blessed me recently with a serendipitious juncture of gingers. We'd visited the Mercado Medellín, in Colonia Roma Sur, México, DF. This is a very nice mercado in an upper middle class area of the city. Along its well-ordered aisles, I found at least two stand selling fresh ginger, at the reasonable price of $42 MXP a kilo.

I brought it home and it wasn't until several days later, while browsing the fun-filled forums of the Thorny Tree Refuge Stuff It! branch, that I saw a post by "Bixaorellana" on making ginger beer. That was intriguing, but the recipe used ground ginger, and I knew it had to be better made with fresh. A quick Google turned up a very easy way to make Fresh Ginger Beer.

I got right on it. The process is astoundingly simple. The primary caution involves gas. The rapid build up of CO2 may result in rupture of the soda bottle, unless you refrigerate it as soon as the fermentation has peaked. Grolsch Beer bottles with resealable stoppers would be better, but there's some extra expense involved, unless you are already a Grolsch drinker. My bottle simply erupted in a fountain of ginger beer. Providentially, I'd placed the 2.5 liter Coca Cola bottle into a larger, institutional food dervice container.

The brew was very pleasant although lacking a rich depth of ginger flavor, as well as looking too pale. I'd even substituted light brown sugar for the white sugar in the recipe, and increased the amount of ginger from the original recipe.

Concurrently, I made a rather thin-bodied but zesty ginger syrup out of the rest of the ginger.

After sampling the ginger beer, I dosed the rest with some ginger syrup, and put it out for a second fermentation. That took place in less than 12 hours. This time, I carefully captured the spewings of ginger fountain, and recycled them back into the bottle. The double-fermented brew was much better, and with more days in the fridge, it improved even more.

At any rate, this may become a regular item in my repertoire. I bought more fresh ginger at Superama in Morelia, and although not as nice as the Mercado Medellín stuff, it's more than satisfactory.

I have started a new brew, a Sichuanese style Spiced Ginger Beer made from a syrup base with piloncillos, dried Mandarine peel, cinnamon stick, star anise, a couple of cloves, allspice berries, Sichuan Peppercorns, and a dried red chile, as well as copious amounts of grated fresh ginger and some lime. It's steeping now. That will be strained and filtered, then uses in judicious quantities to spike the regular ginger beer. Results should be in in about 2 days.

Here's a recipe for Ginger Syrup for Home-Style Ginger Ale (etc)
from "Better Than Store Bought", by Wittie and Colchie, Copyright 1979, Harpers and Row, publishers. (I highly recommend it, if you can find a copy.)
4 ounces fresh gingerroot, approximately
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar

Peel and finely chop the ginger; you should have about 3/4 cup
Bring the ginger to a boil with the water in an enameled or stainless-steel saucepan. Simmer for 5 minutes, then let stand for 12 to 24 hours, covered with a cloth.
Strain the pulp through a sieve lined with two layers of cheesecloth; squeeze the pulp in the cloth to extract all the juice.
Return the juice to the pan, add the sugar, and bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring. Boil gently for 5 minutes, skimming off any froth.
Cool, strain into a bottle, and refrigerate.

Use about 1 tablespoon of syrup mixed with 6 ounces of chilled soda water to make a gingery drink.