Eat, Drink, Man, Woman

…Where 'La Gourmandise' is not a sin!

A few weeks ago we were exploring the surrounding areas of the new ‘Colonia’, or neighborhood, where we recently moved to and we found a ‘Mercado’ not too far from where we now live. Those ‘Mercados’ are the permanent versions of the street markets or ‘tianguis’ which are normally setup on fixed days on blocked sections of streets. Most ‘Colonias’ have them once of twice a week. They are great sources for fresh produce, chicken, meat, seafood, and everything else from clothing to pirated DVDs. On that day we found some very nice large shrimps with heads on (15-20 count to a pound) at a decent price and we picked up half a kilo for the main meal of the day, which here means the ‘Comida’ which is normally taken at 2-3pm. Since we had been shopping all day, when we returned home we were too exhausted to do anything too involved in the kitchen, so I decided to prepare the shrimps very simply. I decided to sauté them in a neutral oil with just a bit of ‘Chile Guajillo’ and chopped garlic. The ‘Guajillos’ are medium-sized dried red chilies with a very nice deep flavor and very mild in spiciness. They should be available in most Hispanic grocery stores. They give a nice red tinge to the food and a wonderful flavor. We paired the shrimps with a simple pilaf rice and we had the meal ready in about 30-40 minutes. The only bottle of wine we had was a crisp cheap sauvignon blanc from Chile and it proved to be a nice match to the wonderful dish.

Ingredients

3/4 pound large shrimps, shelled, deveined, and butterflied
2 ‘Chile Guajillos’ seeded cut into thin rings
2 small cloves of garlic chopped finely
1 tbs sunflower oil

Preparation

1. Remove the heads and shell the shrimps
2. Clean in a bowl of cold water and devein them, then deepen the incision to butterfly them
3. Pat dry on some paper towels
4. Heat a large frying pan or wok over high eat
5. Add the oil and quickly put the garlic and rings of chili
6. Stir 15 seconds and then add the shrimps
7. Let them sit for 30 seconds to take the eat then start stirring them with a wooden spatula more and more rapidly
8. Cook on both sides until tender and opaque, about 2-5 minutes total depending on the heat of you stove
9. Serve with the garlic and chilies rings on top

A lot of people tell me that they always are having problems coming up with new things to cook. This is a common problem for most of us, and when I was involved in the food business day to day I found that even professional feels the same a lot of the time. I cannot count the number of times when chefs confessed to me that they had problems completing a new menu due to lack of inspiration. The worst thing to do is to get into a routine, with pre-planned meals always on the same days. That totally kills inspiration. Since we have moved here to Mexico a few years back I have tended to suffer from the same problem for two reasons. First the kitchen in the small condo where we used to live was very small and it was a real pain to do any type of cooking, so I tended to enjoy it a lot less. Luckily the new place is still small but we organized it to make cooking fun. Second, and most important, due to our schedule in recent times we used to go food shopping only once a week, and this was normally on weekends when things were very crowded. It is difficult to enjoy food shopping when you cannot get to the food. That was compounded with not having any decent shopping in our area and no car to move around. Luckily the new place has lots of decent shopping nearby and a large street market (tianguis) once a week with a huge amount of fresh produce. Normita tends to be extremely organized and likes to plan things ahead. I am at the opposite and I have no idea what I will feel like eating tonight, let alone next Friday. I have found that the best way to get out of a food rut is to go food shopping either daily or every few days. In a way it might be a pain to do so, but it creates an environment that is conductive for variety. When I used to do this on a regular basis, we had something different on the table every day. Normita used to ask me what I planned to cook, and I could not tell her until we looked at available fresh ingredients. I like to look at fresh produce, meat, fish, poultry, etc. and what looks appetizing changes every day. I get inspiration from what is available when we shop, and at times you find new things that you have no idea how to prepare, and then I normally spend a short time on the Internet researching the background on a specific new product. I then try to improvise something in the style I am in the mood for that day. I rarely follow a recipe, but normally get inspired by a few of them, then add something based on my own experience. In this way ideas tend to be fresh and inspiration always challenged. Another important point is that it is always good to have reliable favorite dishes and the main ingredient to make them at hand, so when somebody drops by unexpectedly or you do not feel inspired due to time or mood, you have something reliable to cook. An example of this is that lazy mushroom pasta recipe I posted recently. We always have dried pasta, cans of mushrooms, and a jar of tomato sauce in the larder. In this way we are always ready to make that dish if we do not have anything else handy. One of the most rewarding pleasures of cooking is to look for new things and experiment with them. Also the sight of fresh products in a good market always inspire me to try something new, or something old in a different way. The next time you ask yourself ‘what are we going to eat today?’, either make one of your old standbys that you have all the ingredients at hand, or go food shopping with an open mind and see what inspires you. Try to experiment with something new, or a variation of an old favorite recipe with whatever ingredients that inspires you that day. Lucito

Finally I have managed to catch up with the world just in time for the weekend. Normita will be off on Monday so that it will be a nice long one for a change. I hope that we can manage to relax and enjoy life a bit. The following recipe is a very easy one to do, and it is one of our favorite to prepare when we are too lazy to seriously cook up a storm, but energetic enough not to be tempted to order out or walk to a restaurant for a bite. We normally prepare it with whatever fresh mushrooms we have in hand, or with a can of mushrooms if it is an emergency and we do not have anything else. The type of pasta to use is irrelevant and we have made it with about anything we have in the cupboard depending on what our mood was. Last Saturday we made it with tricolor eliches and three different types of mushrooms (button, cremini, and oyster) in equal quantities. It takes about half an hour to prepare, maybe a tad longer if your pasta is of a type that takes a while to cook. I normally prepare the sauce in the same pot I cooked the pasta, after I drained the pasta in a colander to save on washing dishes, but last weekend I wanted to try one of the new large pans, so I dirtied up the kitchen a bit more. We ended up enjoying the meal with a half decent bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from Baja California, a local Mexican wine we found at the supermarket a few weeks back that was surprisingly decent for the price. If some of you are scared about the amount of chilies, do not worry, you do not have to eat them and we normally remove them before serving as well as the bay leaves. They are there just a few minutes to give some flavor to the sauce. Please try and enjoy this quick meal, and let us know if you liked it in the comments . Ingredients Pasta ½ pound dried pasta of your choice 3 quarts water 1 tbs coarse salt Sauce 1 tbs butter ½ tsp dried basil ½ tsp dried oregano ¼ tsp mustard powder 1 tsp brown sugar 2 cloves finely chopped garlic 5 thin red dried Italian chilies or chile de arbol 2 bay leaves 2 small or 1 large tomato roughly cubed ¾ pound roughly chopped fresh mushrooms 1 pound jar of Italian tomato sauce Salt and pepper to taste Freshly grated parmesan cheese for garnish Preparation 1. In a large pot put water and salt and bring to boil at high eat. 2. While the water is heating up chop the mushrooms roughly and reserve. 3. Place basil, oregano, mustard powder, sugar, garlic, bay leaves, and washed chilies in a small bowl. 4. When the water is boiling, reduce heat and put the pasta in it and cook according to the package until tender. 5. When the pasta is ready pour the entire pot in a large colander placed in the sink and return the pot to the fire. 6. Put the butter in the pot and when melted cook the mushrooms for 3-4 minutes until nice and juicy. 7. When the mushrooms are ready add the spices and tomatoes from the bowl and stir in thoroughly for a few minutes. 8.Add the jar of tomato sauce and bring to a simmer and when it is warmed through pour in the cooked pasta. 9. Gently fold the pasta until the sauce and mushrooms coats it well. 10. Serve after removing the chilies and bay leaves, and top with a grating of fresh pepper and some grated parmesan.

The last few days were busy with work here, so posting has been light. We managed to relax a bit on Sunday, a first after many months of craziness, and the last few days have been very busy with programming work in the office. Over the weekend we also managed to baptize the new kitchen and we prepared great dishes. Those recipes will be up shortly. For now we will not be posting pictures of the cooking process as we planned. The digital camera just died on us and I need to research what is available on the local market and do some shopping for a new one.

While preparing the recipes for posting I decided to try to standardize the format so postings will be consistent from the start. I still have a bit of refining to do before the format is final. I’m waiting for input on this from a few people. In the coming weeks I will also start posting links to downloadable recipe files that I will host on our internal server. These file will be in a format that will permit easy recipe exchange, and at the same time I will release a free recipe viewer that I am currently building. This will permit people to view and exchange recipes easily as well as search them and do various other things. We will keep updating it to add features and also permit submission of recipes to enhance interactivity on the site. More on that as the development progress…

I will call it quits early tonight so that we can catch up on some relaxation. We have been going non-stop for the last few years and we really need a break. We plan to take some extended weekends off over the next few months so that we can recharge the batteries, and also to give us time to work on some new features for the site and try and enjoy some great recipes.

Lucito

I’m taking a short break between doing some work in the office and cleaning the old aquarium. A very cheerful combination of tasks for a grayish Saturday. Normita should be here in about an hour or so, and she will bring some things so that we can prepare a decent meal. More on that recipe later…

Yesterday I went to a trade show about restaurants, bars, and hotels. They offered a wide variety of food supplies, equipment, and services for the trade. I was there for a quick run around the exhibition floor, as I only wanted to check a few things, mainly what was available locally for restaurant/bar management software. Of course I kept an eye open for dishes, glassware, and kitchen gadgets, as well as potential suppliers of foodstuff. I also spent a few minutes looking and drooling at commercial ranges as I plan to install one in our next kitchen when we move to a new house in a few years.

I met with the people representing an extensive line of kitchen gadgets and knives and I particularly liked their line of commercial kitchen knives. The sales rep told me to come back a bit later, as since it was the last day of the show they were planning to sell everything at deep discounts so they did not have to bring back everything with them again through customs.

Of course, you know what that means; I stopped by on my way out of the show and left with 5 new knives. Luckily I had not brought much cash with me, as I was not expecting to shop there, so I did not come back with more gadgets that I have room in the kitchen. The only thing I want to know is why food people are so addicted to buying so many things… I know about it, I even wrote about it a few days ago, and I still went along and bought more knives. I think that I will go finish cleaning the kitchen so that I can actually use them, or at least one or two of them… I’ll have report on them if they turn out to work as well as they look…

Lucito

Some people are glad that Friday rolls along, but this week I am very happy that it is finally Saturday. It was a very busy one and I just noticed that I did not post for a few days as I ended up finishing work around 11pm the last 2-3 days. Of course I am still planning to work today as Normita is away again for the day at a trade show for her work. This leaves me with the fun tasks of either catching up on household chores, or doing some work in the office. Knowing myself I will probably end up doing a bit of both…

We were supposed to get the last of our furniture on Wednesday evening, but, of course, the carpenter building them called us to let us know that the last coat of varnish was not drying quickly enough. He would deliver on Thursday at 9am, which ended up being Thursday at 3pm. Don’t you like wasting your time waiting for trades people?

In any case we ended up getting our furniture and we set things up nicely on Thursday night, including the new aquarium, and last night we transferred the boys to their new home. They spent the evening swimming along madly as they now had 5 times the space to do so, compared to their old home. This morning they are at it again, so I assume that they will get in great shape from the extra exercise. I wish I was so lucky…

We will probably post some of the first recipes to the site this weekend as we will finally have time to really cook for the first time since we moved here. Our philosophy is that we do not want to post recipes that we have not recently done in our kitchen. Most of them are originals that are favorites of ourselves and our friends, and others are some that we have adapted over the years.

This is mainly for two reasons. First I do not believe that simply posting things that you find on the Internet as your own is fair, so how can people trust us if we do not actually cook and eat the stuff we present here. Like our dear friend Kurt always says, ‘I do not trust a chef who does not eat his own food, or that is too thin!’.

Second, I have a tendency to not measure much when I cook, and even for recipes of mine I need to double-check on the exact quantities as I rarely follow even my own written recipes. This is where doing all the recipes with Normita comes handy, as she will be able to keep an eye on me, take notes, and make sure that what we finally post will thoroughly reflects the way we cook. More on that and other things later today…

Lucito

I was reminded of how many things we accumulate in the kitchen over the years while we were unpacking and cleaning all of the kitchen gadgets we got since we moved to Mexico about two and a half years ago. We had a large cardboard box full of all sorts of things, and I realized that we probably have about 10 times that in storage back in Canada.

Do we really need all of that stuff, or do we just become addicted to purchasing all of those neat kitchen gadgets? Over the coming weeks I will give my opinion on what are the things I find useful in the kitchen, and about what things I should never have bought. I have a weakness for kitchen knives of all size, and over the years I have oscillated between using 10 different ones to prepare a dish to using a single one to do everything. This does not stop me from purchasing new knives all the time, as we all must have our vices…

For now I have just washed everything and stuffed them in a few drawers in the kitchen, and next weekend I will go through everything and decide what I will keep and what will go in storage or be given away. I’ll make a handy list of basic kitchen essentials for those starting out with a new kitchen, or who want to do some fall cleaning. This will also help me in finding out if we are missing something important when we start using the kitchen heavily.

Lucito

We are finally somewhat settled in the new condo. Last Friday, with the wonderful help of Jorge and Margarita, we managed to clean the place up properly and wash all of the dishes, cutlery, glasses, pots and pans, and all the things we have for the kitchen, and then somewhat found some room for everything in its reduced space.

Tomorrow night a little bar and a small furniture for the aquarium should be delivered and the last things still sitting around on the counters should be stored away. We should be able to start posting regularly in the coming days. This took a lot longer than planned, but we are now ready. Normita is out of town on business until tomorrow so her introductory post will still be delayed for a few days. I am here and frantically preparing some nice posts and tasty recipes and they will be up regularly starting soon.

We do not plan to have a regular posting schedule at first, but I aim to post at least a short entry daily, and when the mechanics of production will be well oiled we will try to have a regular schedule for the posts.

Have fun visiting us, and I will be back shortly…

Lucito

The mess in the dining room after the movePhew… It’s been a very long month so far. We were planning to launch this new site at the end of August, about two weeks after we had moved to our new condo, but circumstances prevented us from doing so. We have been dealing with architects and trades people for the last month and the kitchen is yet to be ready for prime-time. Since it is a tad difficult to do a food-related site without having a working kitchen, we postponed the launch until we were ready. The last workers left on Tuesday, and last night we unpacked the kitchen supplies and spices, and stored them in the newly-built larder. Some of the dishes and implements of food preparation are piled up on the dining room table awaiting a good wash so that they can be properly stored tonight. It looks like we should be ready to start cooking by the weekend, and so we will be able to start blogging about it soon. I will now take some time to introduce myself and what I plan for this site, and Normita will chime-in, introducing herself, in the coming days whenever her busy schedule permits. I have been deeply involved with food since my childhood. I remember, when I was 4-5 years old, sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen while she was cooking, and helping her in making cookies and other treats. Our family was from a small village on the Laurentian Mountains north of Montréal, Québec, and, as with any good French family, food was an important part of our lives. I lived in Montréal with my parents and every weekend we would take the trip ‘up-north’ to my grandparent’s house and stay with them. You could get in the house, via the kitchen, at any hour of the day or night, and there would be something cooking on the stove or in the oven, and some industrial quantities of freshly prepared food in the refrigerator. I remember, when I was in my late teens, stopping at their place in the middle of the night after the clubs closed, and there was always a freshly baked ham in the refrigerator or some thick stew or soup slowly simmering on the stove. We would dig-in without waking up anyone and fill ourselves with great food before going out again for more revelry. After my early childhood in my grandmother’s kitchen, my interest for cooking became more formal. In my early teens my mother was taking cooking lessons from one of the best French chefs in Montréal, and when she was returning home I would pore over her lessons and prepare the newly-learned recipes with her. By the time I was at university I was taking regular night classes in various forms of cooking, including many years of traditional Chinese cooking. From then on cooking and later wine became my passions and I have been involved professionally as a food consultant and wine buyer since the mid-eighties as one of my many business endeavors. I lived in Québec through my early twenties until I graduated from university, I then moved to Northern Ontario where I worked in private practice. I was involved with 3 careers through the eighties, first as a dentist, second as a food and wine consultant, and third as a computer consultant. By the early nineties I abandoned the first career completely to dedicate myself primarily to the computer business. I have been involved with numerous IT startups since then, and also consulting on IT and the food/wine business. All of this while traveling the world for both pleasure and business. Last spring I was hired to develop and maintain a line of software for a web-based company, as well as overseeing the development of their newly re-launched websites. While we were undergoing the move to our new location we were planning to launch some discussion places to talk about the products that the sites were promoting. While looking for regular writers, Bob, our CEO, came up with the wonderful idea that our first one should be about food and that I should be the main contributor. Even though the sites are not really food-related, it would be a great idea for me to do something I really like and also to generate some traffic to the sites. Off we went with the concept and with the help of Kurt, our webmaster and dear friend of mine, the concept evolved into a site that will be about food, wine, fine living, hedonism, traveling, and whatever contributes to the joys of life. It will be mainly based on my experiences and those of my lovely wife Normita, as well as of some friends who will contribute whenever they have something relevant to say. This first post is a bit long-winded, as I thought that I should introduce myself a bit before starting to seriously contribute to the subject at hand. I want to keep things informal, and have people contribute in a format that will be both entertaining and educational. I will try to regularly post some recipes that I have both tested, and eaten recently, and will follow the day-to-day rhythm of what we do here in the kitchen and in our lives. Normita will introduce herself in the coming days, but let me first tell you a little bit about us. About 7-8 years ago we met on the Internet and we exchanged emails for many months before we first met. Normita is the warmest and loveliest person I have ever met, and we complete ourselves entirely. We do not feel whole without each other, and our love has been growing by leaps and bounds over the years. In those days I was back living in Québec, and she was living in her native Mexico City. After we first met, we spent the next couple of years traveling back-and-forth between Québec and México, and we soon realized that at this rate we would spend enough money to buy our own airline. We finally decided to get married in the middle of the year 2000 and in November of that year we tied the knot at Hacienda de Cocoyoc, a wonderful place about an hour south of Mexico City. We then lived in Québec, at the edge of a wonderful lake, for some years, but the long winters and the isolation finally got the best of us, and we decided over two years ago to come live in Mexico City. We rented a furnished condo for a few years, but decided to move to a quieter area of the city last spring and it took us many months to find such an area, and then to find a decent place. Once we moved, one month ago today, we have been struggling to make this place comfortable, and a place where we can share our love of life with our friends and family. We are getting close to this goal now. We both want to welcome you to our new place, and we hope that you will like what you will find here. At first, until the kitchen is finally operational, I will talk about cooking in more general terms, and also share our experiences in building a new small kitchen from scratch. We hope that you will find it useful, and that you will enjoy your stay with us. Lucito