September 30, 2012

Mexican tostadas

Over six months have gone already, since I discovered the joys of Mexican cooking and shared my new fondness with a series of articles on Global Gourmande (see ¡Viva ceviche!, Rustic Mexican cooking in Sierra Norte, Chomping on churros, Perfect pastries in Mexico).

Among the many delicious specialties we had the opportunity to sample on our trail, there is one local snack in particular which I promised to myself to try and reproduce shortly after we would be back in Europe. It is tostadas - deep fried tortillas spread with pureed black beans and topped with lettuce, fresh cheese, avocado and occasionally shredded chicken.

Shortly it was not, but I finally gave it a try a few weeks ago - which did not just result in a very satisfying lunch but also brought back a good deal of happy travel memories to our table. Although I baked the tortillas instead of deep-frying them - easier and healthier after all - and used mozzarella in place of queso fresco, it tasted great and fairly authentic.

Rather than providing a detailed recipe, I will roughly describe how I proceeded - so anyone feels welcome to further play with the method as well as the ingredients according to their own taste and cooking style. You'll see that in spirit, putting together a tostada is actually very similar to making a sandwich!

First thing first: tortillas. As I could not find any corn tortillas in our usual supermarket, I used some wheat ones, brushed them with a little olive oil and baked them on parchment paper in a hot oven. I was surprised how fast they turned crispy and brown - so keep an eye on it as just a couple of minutes should be enough.

For the bean spread, I used kidney beans from a can, drained them and warmed them up in a pan with a little water on low heat, until they got soft enough to be mashed into a coarse puree using a fork. In case the mixture has got a bit stiff by the time you're ready to spread it over the tortillas, you can just add a little water to make it soft again.

I boiled some chicken breast until cooked through, and rinsed it with cold water to cool it down a bit before shredding it with my fingers.

Putting the tostadas together now - child's play:

Spread some bean puree over your toasted tortillas

Top with shredded lettuce, shredded chicken, thinly sliced fresh cheese (mozzarella makes a decent substitute to Mexican queso fresco - and although saltier, halloumi cheese would probably work too), sliced tomatoes and avocado. To prevent the avocado from oxidizing once cut open, splash the slices with some lime juice.

Squeeze some lime and garnish with fresh coriander to bring on the full flavor of Mexican cooking, and if you like it a bit hot, sprinkle some chilli powder on top to finish.

¡Buen provecho!

July 8, 2012

Express chocolate raspberry tartlets

I had been thinking about putting such tartlets together since a friend visiting from Australia last month mentioned turning her leftover Lindt Easter bunnies into cakes. I still hadn't broken the one Tom got me this year like every year now since that Easter we spent in Hong Kong, where chocolate bunnies have not yet become a big enough tradition to pop up in a plethora of variations like I remember it being the case in my hometown Strasbourg ever since I was a little girl - when my father was the one hiding a chocolate bunny in the house for me before I would wake up..

The Lindt Gold Bunny may be industrial chocolate, it still tastes really good! So yes I was tempted to use my bunny into some sweet recipe, but preferably one that would keep its taste pretty intact. I had come across those lovely looking tartlet bases at Lindner in Berlin Mitte, a fine deli full of gorgeous products, and although I always prepare my own pastry, I quite fancied making an exception and giving them a try. Lastly, I bought some raspberries at the market since they are now perfectly in season, as I thought they would bring a nice crisp and summery touch to my tartlets.

So here we are for the ingredients:
- one (leftover) milk chocolate Lindt Gold Bunny
- a little bit of single cream to help it melt smoothly
- some ready-made good quality tartlet bases
- a few raspberries to to top it up, rinsed and dabbed dry with care

And then it's child's play!

Place the bunny in a saucepan (!) and melt it over low heat. When it starts turning into a paste, add some cream to obtain a soft shiny texture. With a spoon, divide between the tartlet bases (I managed to make 6 tartlets with a decapitated medium-sized bunny - I had to have a little bit of it as is...). Pop the raspberries hole down in the chocolate and place in the refrigerator for a little while until the chocolate is set.

Sieht toll aus und schmeckt so lecker! Rainy weekends in the German capital don't have to be sad...

April 22, 2012

Yummy Yum Cha in Berlin

Likely to become our new residence soon, Berlin scored a solid point upon our recent visit, with some mouthwatering dim sum which will definitely make an efficient remedy, should symptoms of Hong Kong home-sickness appear..

Walking past Yumcha Heroes in Mitte around lunch time, we thought - why not give it a chance and see how our much loved steamed bites are interpreted and reproduced here in the German capital..

Our surprise was all the greater as we were ready to show leniency under such circumstances. Despite a slight fancy look, the dumplings proved remarkably authentic and toothsome, of a finesse worthy of our favorite teahouses back in Hong Kong. Bis bald Berlin !

Weinbergsweg 8
D-10119 Berlin-Mitte
+49 30 76 21 30 35

April 6, 2012

Thank you Katz's

Thank you Katz's for rewarding me at last with the wow effect I have been seeking during my whole stay in New York - and on my last day too! In spite of having tried a good number of the supposedly "not-to-be-missed" spots in the Big Apple, I was often left a little disappointed, or just satisfied at best. That was until I finally walked through your doors in the Lower East Side..

The reputation of the 125-year old delicatessen of Houston Street need not be repeated, but I am thrilled to confirm that their legendary cured meat sandwiches do taste as unbelievably good as they are said to by so many fans around the globe.

I did not try Katz's celebrated pastrami as I really fancied a Reuben that day, but oh my… what a Reuben! I have been let down so many times in the States by sandwiches making up for using average quality meat and insipid cheese by sinking it all under a massive quantity of bad ready-made sauce, but here I was served a sandwich using only the best ingredients in perfect proportions: some out-of-this-world corned beef, seasoned to perfection and melting in the mouth despite being surprisingly lean, good "real" cheese (not the sweaty industrial stuff), fresh sauerkraut, still slightly crunchy under the tooth, and an honest Russian dressing to top it all off, evidently homemade. Thinking about it, calling that marvel of flavours a sandwich almost seems like an insult!

Food set aside, Katz's can also pride itself for having kept its original decor over the decades - even the "Send A Salami To Your Boy In The Army" sign hanging behind the counter (a service still available nowadays!) - retaining this way the genuine atmosphere of a former era...

205 East Houston Street
New York City
(212) 254-2246

March 14, 2012

Perfect pastries in Mexico

Whoever thinks croissants and other pastries are a French affair has never been to Mexico. I don't consider myself especially patriotic when it comes to baking: I'm a big fan of German bread, love British scones and Irish soda bread, remember some perfect cinnamon rolls in Sweden, and keep even sweeter memories of the bread I would have every morning of that Summer I spent in Benin, freshly baked at the communal oven… Still, I was certainly not expecting to find such a variety of delicious baked items in Mexico.

From the widely known cuernos (croissants), chocolatins (chocolate croissants) and roles de canela (cinnamon rolls) to more local and less familiar conchas (brioche buns with a swirled vanilla or chocolate sugar coating), roles de anis (anis seeds rolls) and panes de nuez (pecan-filled buns) - fresh pastries are omnipresent in Mexico, from street vendors to popular pastelerias (cake shops) and fancy restaurants.

Out of all the places we sampled the confections from along our journey, it is with no doubt at top-notch El Cardenal in Mexico City that we were served the best ones. El Cardenal is an institution in the Mexican capital and I could not wait to give it a try. Luckily we were staying just a minute away from the original location (the establishment has expanded into a few other branches which appear not to quite live up to the reputation of this first branch) and it quickly occurred to me upon our first visit that going to El Cardenal for breakfast is a little like going to Ladurée in Paris for tea and macarons - a tradition for the locals and a not to be missed highlight for any visitor in town. We tried a few of their pastries over our two visits and without much surprise but for our greatest delight, every single one proved remarkably fresh and fluffy. I fell for the concha de vanilla and the rol de anis above all, not to mention the frothy hot chocolate stirred and poured from the jug right at your table - another specialty of the house, on the richer side but a definite must!

Here lies the irony: although El Cardenal instantly became our favourite at first bite and sip, we suspected the personnel of thinking that we did not appreciate the food as we noted their astonishment every time we asked for the check.. The truth is: while we were perfectly satiated and ready to start strolling around the city after such a wholesome breakfast, Mexican people appear to be much hungrier in the morning as we noticed later that these delicious pastries are just what keeps them waiting for the real thing - generally a full cooked breakfast including eggs, black beans and tortillas at the very minimum!

Palma 23 (between 5 de Mayo and Francisco l. Madero)
Centro Histórico, Mexico City

March 7, 2012

Chomping on churros

We are leaving Mexico tomorrow and believe it or not, until this afternoon I still hadn't succumbed to the temptation of the fluted sticks of fried dough inherited from the Spanish over a century ago..

In order to rectify this shameful negligence as soon as possible, we saved room for dessert and headed towards la Churrería "El Moro" after lunch. An institution here in Mexico City, "El Moro" is famous for its scrumptious churros freshly made 24/7 - the only food item on the menu next to a variety of chocolate caliente and café con leche, dunking optional.

We sat at one table of the obviously historic establishment - which doesn't seem to have undergone much renovation since its opening in 1933 - and ordered coffee and a couple of the deep-fried snacks...

Perfectly golden and sprinkled with caster sugar, crunchy on the outside but slightly chewy inside at the same time - these churros set the standards to which all others should be compared.

Phew... I can now say goodbye to Mexico with a light heart!

Churrería "El Moro"
Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas 42
Centro, Cuauhtémoc
06000 Ciudad de México, Distrito Federal

March 2, 2012

Rustic Mexican cooking in the Sierra Norte

We returned yesterday from a wonderful three-day trek in the mountainous Sierra Norte, north-east of Oaxaca de Juárez, Mexico. Not only did this excursion allow us to explore the gorgeous scenery of the region and learn about the plethora of plants growing here and their respective usages in traditional medicine and cooking, but it also gave us the opportunity to sample some delicious Mexican food in a particularly remote setting.

We passed through three of the "Pueblos Mancomunados", a community of eight Zapotec villages cooperating in an excellent ecotourism program: Benito Juárez, Cuajimoloyas and Llano Grande - all three situated at around 3000 meters above sea level. In each village, we were greeted with comforting home-style cooking at the local canteen or "comedor" - all the more appreciated after hours of strenuous hiking at such elevation.

We were offered nothing but wholesome food, though I especially enjoyed the tostadas which were served to us for dinner in Benito Juárez - lightly spread with pureed black beans and beautifully garnished with shredded lettuce, crumbs of queso fresco (Mexican fresh cheese) and chunks of delicious avocado.

What better way to start a day in the mountains than with a bowl of Oaxacan-style steaming hot chocolate, where cinnamon and ground almonds wonderfully round off the primary mixture of ground-up cocoa beans and sugar? I have been lucky enough to taste some of the finest chocolate drinks through my work or in famous salons de thé in France, but I have to say the rustic Oaxacan recipe enchanted my tastebuds and my heart just as much and maybe even more…

Our meals in Cuajimoloyas were livened up by the presence in the comedor of Joana and Leslie, four-year old little angels quietly keeping themselves busy while their mums were cooking for the whole neighbourhood. Not to mention our admiration when we saw Joana devouring green beans along with a bowl of coffee for breakfast! - while I had declined the full Mexican desayuno that morning and given myself up to the simple pleasure of dipping a bread roll into a frothy hot chocolate, a very frenchie brekkie you would think but the traditional way to have it here too!

We came back a bit sore but delighted by our wilderness escape, one that we would highly recommend to anyone looking to experience the indigenous village life up close. We organised our tour with Expediciones Sierra Norte and were very happy with everything - their website is quite unclear and very incomplete though so you're better off visiting them directly at their office downtown Oaxaca.

February 27, 2012

¡Viva Ceviche!

After stocking up on sushi and sashimi in Vancouver, it is in a very different manner that we enjoyed raw seafood on the splendid Oaxacan coast last week. Following our Mexican friends Paco and Paola's recommendation, we looked for "ceviche", that typical dish of the coastal regions of Central and South America - which over the time has developed its own distinctive style in Mexico.

Just like fish tartare, ceviche features fresh raw fish cut in very small pieces. The main difference lies in the fact that the fish is left to rest in a citrus-based marinade for a certain period of time, which can vary from the time it takes to mix the ingredients and serve (modern-style ceviche), to a few hours (traditional style ceviche). Other seafood such as prawns and squid are common too in Mexican ceviche, which usually also includes tomatoes, onion, avocado, cilantro (coriander) and chili, and is served with flat toasted tortillas or "tostadas".

At Kapricho, a tiny little eatery along the main road of San Agustinillo, a tiny little village itself on the Oaxacan coast, Ivonne serves exclusively ceviche - and probably eats mostly ceviche too, looking at her own tiny little proportions. As a fervent advocate of short menus and simple concepts, I particularly appraised that charming young lady's choice to propose just one dish, the one she has truly mastered.

She still offers a few variations of it though. Next to the classic fish or prawn ceviche, Ivonne's chalkboards also feature a "Ceviche Tropical" where mango, apple and mint have replaced the usual tomatoes and cilantro, a "Ceviche Kapricho" which includes a bit of everything - fish, prawn, tomatoes, onion, avocado, cucumber, carrots, mango, pineapple, cilantro and ginger - an extra hot "Aguachile" and even a "Ceviche de Soya" for vegetarians.

We visited Kapricho twice over three days and tried the "Ceviche Kapricho" as well as the "Ceviche Tropical". Both were marvels of freshness and flavour, absolutely perfect after a hot day by the sea. Two lovely sauces were also there to accompany the tostadas and bring an extra kick to the dish: a green blend of cream, onions, cilantro and green chili, and a red blend of mayonnaise and chipotle, a smoke-dried jalapeño chili. Ivonne revealed to me that she marinates the seafood for two hours in salted lime and orange juice and discards the marinade after that, using fresh lime juice to serve. With that extra bit of knowledge, ceviche will definitely be on the menu of my next Mexican-theme dinner party upon our return!

February 20, 2012

Sushi frenzy in Vancouver

My brother had warned me - "you will love Vancouver's all-you-can-eat sushi deals". He was right. Well I did not exactly go for the all-you-can-eat specials, as I can only eat so much and I know this kind of deal never really works for me. So I would just order a la carte, but I did manage to eat raw fish every single day of our stay in Vancouver. Even our Valentine's day dinner ended up as a delivery sushi meal eaten watching TV in our hotel room. Way more romantic than any fancy restaurant, isn't it?

February 13, 2012

Pike Place Chowder, Seattle

 Passing through Seattle the other day, our first excursion was none other than to the famous Pike Place Market. As it was time for some lunch and we were too hungry to wander around to assess dining options by ourselves, I asked the man in the information booth at the market entrance to recommend us a place to have a bite. He suggested Pike Place Chowder for, well good chowder. That sounded like a nice idea, especially as it was a rather grey and chilli day. It turned out that we did very well following that kind man's advice, as the chowder proved wonderful.

February 6, 2012

Portland Pancakes

We left Portland and our new friends Becky and Russ a week ago. Although we were no more than friends of friends seeking accommodation, after our brief time together their exceptional welcome along with some uniquely American experiences quickly made us feel like we were part of the family.

Becky and Russ are true Oregonians, which after these few days in their lovely company could be put as: an incredible sense of fun, a poignant devotion to inter-college sport competitions (or Ducks vs. Beavers for the ones in the know!), a singular pride of the "man cave" (well hidden behind large garage doors...) and a particularly enthusiastic approach to the concept of "joie de vivre".

January 23, 2012

Beer and burgers in the Napa Valley

Until recently and like most probably do, I thought Napa Valley was all about award-winning wines and gourmet food. Well it is indeed, and I surely enjoyed touring around a few of the local wineries and tasting their respective Chardonnay, Cabernet-Sauvignon and Zinfandel to mention only a few. But that's not all, as people up there "in the Valley" also do other things very well, like beer and fast food for instance and as surprising as it may sound!

January 18, 2012

Galette des rois, or kings cake

As far back as my memories go, I remember "drawing the kings", or sharing a "galette des rois" every year at or around Epiphany early January. Although the "kings cake" tradition also exists in many other countries, galette des rois is characteristic to northern France, and consists of a puff pastry case filled with almond paste or "frangipane". A small porcelain figurine or "fève" (literally bean, for a broad bean was originally used) is hidden inside the cake, and the person who receives the slice with the fève becomes the king or the queen of the feast.

January 9, 2012

Whitebait pattie stop on the West Coast

Once back on the road after welcoming the new year in the Fiordlands, we headed towards NZ's West Coast through Haast, the gateway village into NZ's Glacier Country. I had been reading that Haast was famous for whitebait fishing, a practice attracting a number of amateur fishermen eager to earn a few extra dollars since the yearly catches started to shrink and the fish to consequently gain in value a few years ago, and that the most common way to indulge the precious fish was in a "whitebait pattie".

January 5, 2012

Wild venison in the Fiordlands

After a decidedly disappointing venison sandwich on our first day in NZ (which we probably ordered a bit too quickly, as venison does not seem to fit that well in a sandwich thinking about it now…) we reconciled ourselves with the meat a few days later, by enjoying a superb rack of the wild game on New Year's Eve.