Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cooking in Oaxaca

Okay - after a week of gorging ourselves on Oaxacan cuisine, Megan and I decided to take a cooking class.  At Casa Crespo, under the hilariously dour tutelage of Oscar, the owner, Megan, I and five others cooked and enjoyed an entire Oaxacan meal.

The class started with a leisurely coffee while we all decided what dishes most appealed to us.  Once we decided, we all sauntered (There is no walking in Mexico - and definitely no brisk walking.  Only ambling, sauntering, moseying, meandering and maybe a bit of strolling.) to the Sanchez Pascuas market to buy our ingredients.  This was perhaps the most instructive part of the class. 

Before even reaching the market, I learned:
  • soaking chiles in vinegar and water reduces the heat (spiciness)
  • avocado leaves can be used to flavor salsas and moles
  • tinga is the name for a dish composed of shredded meat, tomatoes, chipotle and onion
  • chipotle is dried or smoke jalapenos
  • the chocolate in Oaxaca has no milk in it.  Just almonds and cinnamon.

Once in the market, Oscar took us on a tour and named and described the use for all the chiles we encountered.  I must admit that the options at Whole Foods for chiles can't compete.  Oscar mentioned that many of the uses for chiles are simply to add color to the food or salsa, and why would we need those chiles when we have Red #40?

Back at the restaurant, we rolled up our sleeves, donned our aprons, and got to work, first with making tortillas.  I've tried it since at home, but was quite disappointed in the results without having a tortilla press to use.  But, it was fun!

Then we started working on the almond mole, the stuffed chiles, and the quesadillas.  Besides learning that everything is better if it is first blanched, soaked or roasted, we learned that..... (let me put my serious face on here)... "Puebla says by accident they created mole.  This is not possible.  It is a complicated process!"  No no.  Mole was invented in Oaxaca.

Anyway, after much snacking and much cooking, and five salsas, an avocado soup, chocolate ice cream, cucumber drinks and guacamole later, we were ready to take a break while everything cooked.

The meal was fantastic.  The company was interesting.  The instructor made me want to instigate trouble.  And, recipes in hand, I am going to attempt them all here in Chicago.  I'll return with links to the successes.  This was one of the most memorable and lasting vacation activities I've ever had - I've shared the story and the pictures - I can't wait to share the tastes and the smells with you!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Food in Oaxaca

One of the most interesting things about travel to me is tasting the local cuisine.  On my recent trip to Mexico, I not only got to taste the cuisine, but I got to devour it.   For the foodies out there, these are the highlights from what I enjoyed:

 Enfrijoladas con pollo frito and Entomatadas with queso fresco, raw onions, and thinly cut red meat (tosajo).
El Tipico (an adorable breakfast place with a walled garden patio in back).

 Consome de pollo (soup, beautifully presented, with rice, chicken, avocado, chilis and tomato).  Crema de flor de calabaza (squash blossom soup with pumpkin seeds).
La Olla (a lovely place for dinner with several levels - the top terrace has a gorgeous view of the city)

 Taco de ejotes con huevo (green beans and egg) and taco de cazon (shark).
Itanoni - a wonderful place with such an array of fabulous choices of tacos, tamales, quesadillas, juices etc.  I'm definitely going back there!

 Tetelas espirituosa - beans, sour cream, cheese, salsa, and hierba santa.  SO GOOD.
Itanoni again.  Couldn't help it.
 Canelas (cheese wrapped in hierba santa).
La Biznaga.  The open air ambience was so lovely here, that I forgot to take pictures of some of the most wonderful food both times we went here!

 Chichilo with chicken, green beans, and nopal.  Seven different moles in the background.
Los Pacos.  A lovely, airy restaurant, that specializes in moles.  I bought some to take back home with me and can't wait to recreate this meal (without the grasshoppers).

 Carrot tinga tostada with lentil humus, sour cream, and Parmesan cheese.
La Jicara.  A pretty new, and delicious restaurant adjacent to a fabulous bookstore.

 Champurrado: a mixture of atole (a porridge-like drink made of masa) and frothed Oaxacan chocolate.
This was at a lovely little market in a church plaza.  Look at that froth!!

 Chille Rellenos.  The spicy kind.  Delicious.  Sweet.  Beautiful.  At this point in the trip, I had stopped writing everything down!  Casa Oaxaca.  I think.  A breezy, palatial restaurant with great service and a very interesting menu (try the shrimp cocktail).

Now, wasn't that colorful?  I think these pictures, more than any others, represent Oaxaca to me.

Creepiness in Oaxaca

While the environment was lush, the buildings gorgeous, the people friendly, and the food amazing, there was a lot of creepiness I encountered on my recent trip to Mexico that I just have to share.  I give you these examples:

Chapulines.  Grasshoppers sauteed in garlic and oil.  Only creepy when I was picking legs out of my teeth.

Agave plants.  Very cool.  Only creepy in that they look a bit of aliens that have descended from space in front of this Baroque church in order to hatch or suck our soil of nutrients.

A very tasty fruit called Granada China.  Only creepy because it looks like a brain-slug and you eat it like you're doing a shot.

An art project?  A mummy parade?  I actually can't think of what's NOT creepy about this.

I heard that in places in Mexico, women wear live bejeweled bugs on their blouses as ornamentation and that there is actually a market for portraits done of your baby on Jesus's lap.  And I'll leave the creepy image of the pornographic skeleton figures to your imagination.

Beauty in Oaxaca

I recently visited my good friend Megan in Oaxaca.     
The perfect vacation: relaxing, seeing the world, and catching up with a friend.

The churches and other Baroque era buildings were just gorgeous.

It doesn't take much to entertain me.  Just walking around town and stopping in places on a whim was fantastic.

We did eat a lot.  I mean - what are vacations for???

The scenery was gorgeous.

Did I mention that it was in the upper eighties while I was there?

Oaxaca was such a beautiful place to visit - with something for everyone.  You should go!

I can't wait to go back.