June 22, 2012

last things

Starting from yesterday there was the imminent sense that we were about to depart Oaxaca and needed to accomplish everything left on our list.

First up was Chef taking us to the 20th of November Market for dinner. There's this line of grilled meat stands, all serving the same meats at the same prices, and you cruise on over to your stand of choice and tell them how much of whatever kind(s) of meat you want and they grill it to order.

grilled meats stand

There's an area with tables where you sit and wait for them to bring the grilled meat to you, along with the tortillas and whatever accoutrements you want. We had avocado, pico de gallo, radish, cucumber, grilled spring onions and chile. It's a very primitive setting, no utensils or plates, but the simple flavors are so satisfying. Reminded me of a backyard barbecue, where everything is smoky and shared.

grilled meats

After dinner we did a stroll around the Zocalo (city center), and encountered these miraculous little gelatins. Can you believe the flower designs are made through syringe injections? Apparently there's a Mexican lady in San Francisco that does this. I need to learn from her.

rose gelatin

After dinner all of us in the program went out for drinks (Chef joined us) and karaoke (Chef didn't join us). The karaoke is different than any other kind I've done before - instead of a private room or public stage, everyone is sitting in the audience and you sing with a mike from your table. It's dark and club-like so there's no real sense of exposing yourself. The real Mexicans sang sorrowful ballads, which kind of killed the mood for us Americans but served as a cultural experience. I'm just glad we all got a chance to go out before the program was over.

Today was spent with a last lunch at El Quinque, then a trip to Rufino Tamayo, the pre-Columbian museum. Rufino Tamayo was a painter that personally collected all of these art/artifacts. There were hundreds of figures and objects to look at, all over a thousand years old.

pre-columbian figures

After that Cris and I went guayabera (traditional dress shirt) shopping. We bought five shirts, including one as a gift for Julius for being a great roommate and all around nice guy (he let me borrow his waterproof jacket that mushroom foraging day it poured rain, preventing me from certain death).


After whiling away the afternoon, we attended the program's farewell dinner at La Olla, Chef Pilar's restaurant. The table was set beautifully, and we were treated to yet another 4-5 course meal.

farewell dinner menu

And so ends our three week stay in Oaxaca. I will probably never come back, but the food and the experiences of making it will always stay with me. The ingredients and techniques I learned will most likely make it into the future dishes I create. I can see it already, mole negro ice cream. Oaxaca has become and will always be a part of me.

mexican pastries

Today we spent the day at the workshop of two bakers (and couple), Marc and Angela. They not only had a great space for us to work in but a packet full of recipes for us to choose from.

Cris and I made sweet tamales, filled with rice flour dough, pastry cream and peanuts and raisins.

sweet tamale filling

We also made encocadas, which are the Mexican version of coconut macaroons.


One thing I really enjoyed making was tamarind candy, because tamarind is less commonly used in the US and I really like the tangy flavor. They had pulp that was already de-seeded, that only needed to be cooked down with water and then strained. The straining was the hardest part because the cooked pulp wouldn't pass through the sieve. After I finally got most of it through, it was mixed with sugar, chili powder, salt and lime juice.

cooked tamarind pulp

That mixture was then cooked down further into a thick paste. That was cooled and shaped into balls, then rolled in sugar to coat.

tamarind balls

The crowning success of the day, however, had to do with the dough we made. It was for conchas, the slightly sweet Mexican buns that have a shell-like pattern on top (hence the concha name).

Marc taught me the technique for getting the dough balls really tightly formed, and it had to do with pressing the ball down and moving my cupped hand in a circular motion, lightly releasing as the ball gained in tension/tightness. At first I had trouble doing it because I thought my hand was too small (the ball stayed flabby beneath my hand, as if it wasn't being pressed by a big enough hand), but I realized it was because I wasn't applying enough pressure. I had a grand old time figuring it out.

rolling conchas

Because the recipe called for cinnamon and sugar, I automatically thought of cinnabuns, and so I reserved a part of the dough to make exactly that.

cinnabun dough

The shell pattern was applied using a different dough (a short dough, more like pie or tart dough) and a shell-pattern cutter.

concha & cinnabuns

Both things turned out well, although I enjoyed the cinnabuns so much more because it seemed like something I had invented - Mexican cinnabuns. They were topped with frosting (milk + powdered sugar) and some with goat's milk caramel that we had made. Delicious.

cinnabuns with frosting

June 20, 2012

el origen

Today we went back to El Origen, where we had our welcome dinner and our session with La Teca. However, this time we were being taught by El Origen's chef himself.

Chef Rodolfo took us to Mercado Abastos to shop for produce - conveniently the one big market I hadn't gone to yet. When we came back to the restaurant he sat us down and gave us the low-down on the five course meal we would be creating. And by low-down, I mean everything he came up with between the market and the restaurant. Because he didn't have a set menu.

In the kitchen, Chef didn't divide us into stations. He had his hands in everything, and so did we.

The first dish on the menu was sopa de guías, or soup of the guides, so named because it utilizes all parts of the squash plant (the squash vines guiding you to all parts of the plant).

sopa de guías

Besides squash blossoms, vines, leaves and the squash itself, the soup also had corn and lots and lots of fresh herbs. Whose leaves had to be picked by hand, by Jen and I. (And this is why fine dining restaurants are like sweatshops.)

picking herbs

The second dish was the famed grilled octopus salad, which we had the chance to enjoy before at the welcome dinner. Beside octopus there was purslane, other herbs, radish, avocado criollo (local, with edible skins), mustard vinaigrette and artichoke chips.

grilled octopus salad

The octopus was cleaned and boiled in a court bouillon until soft (at that point it tasted almost like boiled pork!) Then it was cut apart, marinated in a chili paste and grilled over wood charcoal. Krizol and I helped with cutting it.

cutting octopus

The third course featured seafood - namely crawfish and grouper, beautifully presented. Hidden between were caramelized spring onion and carrot, garlic chips and an orange shrimp sauce to go with.

crawfish and grouper

For this one I helped halve the crawfish, which were then seasoned with oil/salt/garlic and grilled. The grouper was poached in seasoned olive oil.

crawfish halves

The fourth course featured pork tenderloin, and was accompanied by a creamy quince sauce and mole manchemantel (onions, ancho/guajillo chiles, thyme/oregano, cinnamon/clove/allspice). As is typical in mole manchemantel, plantains/sweet potato/pineapple were all present.

pork tenderloin

After being brined in a flavorful liquid including oranges, the pork tenderloins were wrapped in hoja santa and then bacon. I got to wrap one :)

wrapped pork tenderloins

The last dish was a twist on baked alaska. Mamon bread (Mexican sponge?), cooked pineapple, leche quemada (burnt milk) ice cream, and torched meringue on top. I helped make the tuna (cactus fruit) coulis which dotted the plate.

pineapple baked alaska

All in all very fine dining, and very contemporary Oaxacan cuisine. I have a feeling I would learn a lot just hanging out with Chef Rodolfo...

June 19, 2012

forage & fish

Today Susana took us mushroom foraging and then to a trout farm. The morning started out with an hour-long drive up into the mountains, some 10,000 meters above sea level. The scene that greeted us was rather prehistoric-looking, like we were lost in the land before time with these giant agave plants.

giant agaves

We trekked and trampled about in three different forest areas to find mushrooms. The first two hikes generated very little finds. Almost all of the mushrooms we did find were inedible. Like this one.

mushroom 7

And this one.

mushroom 8

In the middle of the second hike I found this mushroom and got very excited. Sadly, the guide pronounced it no good because it smelled bad (or, as Chef Mark put it: "Jo found a doo-doo mushroom!").

mushroom top

The high altitude and the hiking and the lack of mushrooms tired me out really quick. I spent most of my time looking down on the ground and photographing flowers.

flowers 1

Toward the end of our second hike, it started raining. Hard. Despite our best efforts to book it toward the van, we still got really really soaked. And once inside the van, some of us (including me) didn't bother to get out again for the third foraging location, even though the rain had stopped by then and the edible mushrooms proved plentiful.

mushroom types

Then we drove to Doña Lucia's, a cabin in the woods with trout ponds in front of it. We dried ourselves off by the wood fire in the back of the house, then netted enough trout for us each to have one.

fishing trout

The freshly caught trout proved very jumpy - almost leaping out of the bucket that contained them. We were shown how to gut and clean the fish, but I was reluctant to because I didn't want to make a jumpy fish a non-jumpy one. So I waited until the fishes became non-jumpy in the bucket and then gutted and cleaned an already dead one.

me gutting fish

Inside the cabin, the cleaned trout were cooked for a late lunch. Some were grilled over coals.

grilled trout

Others were seasoned (chipotle or garlic) and cooked in foil wrappings.

trout en papilote

Although we were all starving by the time that food was ready, everything was worth the wait. We had breaded and fried mushrooms, marinated mushrooms, mushroom soup, then all of the fresh trout. Fish never tasted so good.

grilled trout with chipotle

June 18, 2012

seasons of my heart

Today we went to Susana Trilling's reknowned cooking school, Seasons of My Heart. We started off with a cheese demonstration from a woman named Silvia.

There are three main types of cheese here: queso fresco (similar to ricotta), requesón (made from the reheating of whey leftover from queso fresco), and quesillo (similar to mozzarella and known as Oaxacan cheese outside of Oaxaca). Silvia showed us how to make queso fresco and quesillo.

For queso fresco you take raw cow's milk (preferably straight from the cow) and pass it through the stomach of an animal (where there are enzymes to curdle the milk). The milk is then left to curdle for about half an hour, when the curds will start sinking. The mixture is passed through a cheesecloth to drain out the water. And then you get queso fresco, not unlike ricotta. (The water (or whey) that's left over can be reheated, and the curds derived from that are called requesón).

straining the curd

For quesillo, the curds from queso fresco are left to ferment. The fermented curd is then rehydrated by adding hot water, which makes the curd melt. The melted curd is stirred, and then the water is drained off and the resulting cheese is kneaded like a dough.

curd melting

The cheese is then stretched into a long rope, and rubbed all over with sea salt. The rope is then wrapped around itself to form balls.

wrapping cheese into balls

For special occasions Silvia will make the cheese balls extra fancy, with the help of some toothpicks.

extra fancy cheese ball

Then we had an almuerzo (almost like brunch) of tomato soup, queso fresco, black beans, and tortillas. Stomachs full, we listened to Susana go over all the dishes we would be making in the afternoon (huitlacoche empanadas, garlic squash blossom soup, beet salad, pork mole amarillo, and chocolate budin). Then we were divided into groups to tackle the dishes.

Jennie and I ended up together on the dessert, chocolate budin (bread pudding). The recipe was created by Susana to showcase Oaxacan chocolate.

chocolate budin ingredients

First we soaked some raisins in mezcal, and simmered that on the stove til the raisins absorbed most of the mezcal.

raisins soaked in mezcal

Then we cut bolillo bread into cubes and toasted them.

cubed bolillo bread

Then while Jennie melted Oaxacan chocolate with coffee and salt I mixed together eggs, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, cream and sour cream. Then everything we've worked on up until this point all got combined.

melted chocolate to egg mixture

The mixture was spooned into buttered glass cups, which went into a baking pan filled with hot water. That went into a 350F oven to bake for a little over an hour.

filling chocolate budin cups

While the chocolate budin cups were baking, we set to work on the accompanying sauce. First we juiced a bunch of oranges. The juice was combined with sugar and reduced over heat until the juice became syrupy. Then pureed strawberries and cointreau were added.

juicing oranges

We also whipped some cream with vanilla and powdered sugar for garnish. After that there wasn't anything left to do so I went around helping other stations and snapping photos.

When the chocolate buding was ready (knife inserted came out clean), they were taken out of the oven and the cups were upended over a rack to cool. We were then told to sit down while the school's staff plated and served us.

chocolate budin cups cooling

Huitlacoche (and quesillo) empanadas

adding huitlacoche & quesillo to tortilla

Garlic and squash blossom soup (with hierba santa, cubes of manchego cheese and toasted bread pieces)

garlic squash blossom soup

Beet salad

plating beet salad

Mole amarillo with pork, vegetables, rice and plantains

mole amarillo

And last but not least, the chocolate boudin dessert.

chocolate budin dessert

Overall a very satisfying day. Susana even gifted us each a molinillo and a packet of Oaxacan chocolate! Now I'll be able to make chocolate con agua at home.

molinillo con chocolate