Friday, January 25, 2008

Not Quite "Le Cordon Bleu"

One of the joys of travel is experiencing new foods. For those of you that enjoy cooking as well as eating, taking cooking courses abroad is something you should check out. As more and more of us are moving beyond tacos and nachos, the number of opportunities to experience and learn to cook is growing. The Slow Food movement is finding a receptive audience in Mexico today and many are taking a closer look at la Cocina Regional.

The grand dame of Mexican cooking, of course, is Diana Kennedy in Michoacan. Her books are full of wonderful recipes she's picked-up all over Mexico. Classes with the Julia Child of Mexican cuisine are a bit hard to get into and aren't cheap. Another option in Guadalajara is worth a look. Check out Mexico Cook!'s write up of Xilonen.

For the time being, until your next trip to Mexico, try the Mixiote recipe below.

Mixiote ....say "me-SHOW-tay"

A recent favorite dish of mine has been Mixiote. It is a dish that is common in the areas around Mexico City but hasn't made much of an impact up here. It is similar to barbacoa, often made with borrego (young lamb) or beef cooked in a mixiote, the outter layer of a maguey leaf (penca).
I never thought I'd be able to re-create the great mixiotes I've tasted, but then I started doing some research. I spoke with my tamaleros* who are from el Estado de Mexico and he gave me the run-down on how they make them. "Es MUY facil" he kept telling me. They usually make them for special occasions but he encouraged me to try. Found some recipes and played around a bit with the salsa and got this:

Mixiote de Carne (serves 8)
3 oz (about a dozen) dried guajillo or New Mexico chiles, cleaned and seeded;
14 oz can of chicken broth;
2 oz Achiote Rojo;
5 large garlic cloves, chopped;
1/2 cup of white vinegar;
6 lbs. beef short ribs, (3 inch pieces);
1 lb. package of banana leaves (thawed if frozen);
8 bay leaves.

Bring broth and 2 cups of water to a boil; add dried chile and remove from heat. Let soak for about 10 minutes, uncovered. Put chiles and 1-1/2 cups of soaking liquid in blender, add achiote, garlic, vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of salt. Blend until smooth, about 2 minutes. Let sauce cool to room temp.
Sprinkle meat with 2 teaspoons of salt, then add to sauce in a large bowl and combine. Marinate, chilled at least 8 hours.
(Next day, or later on)
Cut banana leaves into 11 inch squares (you need 8 squares). Heat them on the "comal" (griddle) lightly on both sides (they'll get a little shiny). Also cut 8 pieces of foil into 12 inch squares. Put a leaf on each piece of foil and evenly divide the marinated meat and sauce amongst the leaves. Add a bay leaf to each packet. Fold the leaf around the meat and sauce, (two sides in, then top and bottom) then fold the foil tightly around the packet. Arrange the packets, seam side up, in a roasting pan. Add about 1/8 of an inch of water to pan and put in the middle of a pre-heated 350 degree oven.
Bake for 3 to 3 1/2 hours until meat is VERY tender. *Important* You will need to add water every 15-20 minutes as it evaporates, don't let pan get dry.
Serve with white rice. You can serve in leaf (don't eat it, duh!)

I've made this recipe twice for my family. The first time for my tia when she came to visit us here in Denver and the second time for my family in Oregon. They are from Chihuahua and had not tasted a Mixiote before. However, they loved it! If you would like to try a this before you make it, I'd encourage you to go to Los Carboncitos (3757 Pecos Street; 303-458-0880)on Sundays. They make them in foil packets, but the sauce and meat is really good. This will give you a good idea of what you are shooting for and give you a boost of confidence when your results are SO much better. Post a comment if you have success or questions.

*If you're looking for some good tamales for lunch while you are downtown, go to the corner of 17th and Blake. You can't miss the rainbow umbrella under which you will find some great Mexican street food. If I ever remember to bring my camera, I'll post some pix and a real review.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Mas Cafe?

After our trip to Mexico, and the dismay/glimmer of hope we experienced in regards to the native coffee situation, I was impelled to write the post Hay Café, o Solo Nescafé? If coffee interests you, especially the Mexican stuff and you want to know more about why Nescafe became so prevalent, check out this post in the Mex Files.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Bringin' Home the Yams

I've been mulling over how to live by the slightly stupid or incredibly inspired words of Michael Pollan, "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants". We tend to get into a rut of eating only certain fruits and vegetables, most of which aren't organic, local, or even in season. I've gone from being vegan to making most wolves look like Bessy the Cow. Why of why? As most things, it is the result of bad planning. So, we've decided to give Door to Door Organics a spin. Simple concept. You tell them how often to come around, they bring organic and often local produce to your door. They'll tell you what they are including this week, you have a couple of days to ask for substitutions. So here is what the first shipment looked like, it was the "bitty box":
Total list, for $22, delivered to my office downtown:
  • 2 Kiwi
  • 3 Yams
  • 6 Yellow Onions
  • 7 Roma Tomatoes
  • 5 Tangerines
  • 1 Mango
  • 5 Bananas
  • 3 Pears
  • 4 Navel Oranges

Good deal? We are not sure yet. Quality is good, if a little on the green-side. One benefit is already apparent to me, it's making us try new things. I've never had to use Yams. We looked up recipes and came up with a great Moroccan-style chicken with yams and squash. Wonderful, we'll do it again. So for the time being we will continue to use Door to Door Organics and look forward to the interesting things they surreptitiously slip in.

Have you used them, what do you think?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ewww! Yumm! Ewww! Yumm!

I'm not sure what to think of these repellent delights. I trust the benignly-nefarious blogger that penned this post was not suffering paint intoxication. So, um, here it is: Scotch Eggs. (Is this a scotch tape reference, or a recommended libation avant-ouefs?)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Biker Jim's Wild 'Dogs!

At the corner of 16th and Arapahoe, across from the D&F Clocktower is one of the best places for lunch in Denver. Ask any of the walking white collars or parking ticket givers and they'll tell you that Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs has to be the best lunch cart on the 16th Street Mall. Word has definitely gotten out, even Food and Wine editor Dana Cowen has referred to Biker Jim's as an "amazing street cart with superb reindeer sausage". In fact the reindeer is my favorite, especially with grilled onions and a shot of cream cheese. Yeah, that's right, cream cheese straight out of the caulking gun. So good! Jim has a variety of interesting choices. Of course, if you just want a dog, he has Hebrew Nationals. But check out the selections: Alaska Reindeer; Elk Jalapeno Cheddar; Southwest Buffalo; Wild Boar; German Veal; Louisiana Red Hot. Wednesday is a special day, Jim breaks out the Pheasant as well other rare and interesting links. Don't miss it!

The dogs run $4, and a buck-and-a-half more for pop and chips. He makes excellent cheesecake, so stay out of the Cheesecake Factory! If you want more than a slice, you can pre-order a whole cake. As his site points out, he makes boozy cakes, fruity cakes, or just the best Vanilla NY Cheesecake around. Drop by or email him for more info.

He's out there Monday thru Friday from around 11am to 3pm. Check out his fun blog to find out about menu changes, what the crazies on the Mall are doing, and if he'll be braving the latest snowstorm or not.

Friday, January 4, 2008

What's a Chef to Think?

The NRA, no not that one, I mean the National Restaurant Association, just released a survey of food trends. Check out What's Hot, What's Not to find what ingredients, techniques and ethnic foods are on their way up or out.

Pop Quiz: Which is Hotter...

1) Bite-sized desserts or Dessert Wines?

2) Sake or Microdistilled/artisanal liquors?

3) Flatbreads or Focaccia?

4) Pomegranates or Mango?

5) Braising or Poaching?