Browsing: Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres Day 12

September13

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We opted to keep our golf cart for another day.  This gave D an excuse to hop into the cart and go and scare up some breakfast.

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He found the juice man and then made his way to Café Aluxe.  D had met the baker the night before at Limon’s.  He had spent the entire long day previous baking and by the time D got there, he was almost sold out.  We did manage to get a couple of wedges of coconut-encrusted banana bread which was packed with flavour and beautifully moist.

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We decided to check out Da Luisa at Casa Louis Ixchel.  We were considering the restaurant for the progressive dinner we were planning for the following evening.  Our son and daughter-in-law had celebrated their wedding anniversary there and thought that we might like it as well.  We were encouraged to look around and thought that it was a gorgeous spot.

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After toodling around for the morning, we came upon Oscars Grill and we had built up a hunger and a thirst.  D opted for the shrimp tacos and I a fish sandwich.  Both were pretty good but the truth is, we had eaten so much amazing food over the two weeks, that we were quite used to pretty good.

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We think that we might have happened upon the Oscar of Oscar’s.  Can anyone verify this?

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I dropped D off at Little Garrafon for an afternoon of snorkeling as I spent the time shelling, shopping, writing and reading.  At happy hour, I met up with the gang at Casa de los Suenos.  After visiting the island once or twice a year since 2006, this is another place that I had never been.  We were delighted with the atmosphere and the décor of the open bar.  

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But it was pretty obvious what we were there for….the food!

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We ordered and shared tastes of a variety of their offerings including: Tortilla soup,

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Chiles Relleno,

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Chicken Nachos,

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Fish Tacos,

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Crab Cakes,

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Calamari,

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and Caesar Salad.

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We were serenaded

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and then treated to another stunning sunset.

Our happy hour treats turned out to be our supper and so we whiled away the evening with a whole lot of nothing which is exactly what we love to do on Isla.

Later that evening though, we were getting a little bit peckish and realized that we had not indulged in desert yet so we hopped back onto the cart and headed into Centro.  We knew exactly what we wanted and who would be serving it.

We have a number of local Isla friends that we miss when we don’t get to see them and we had not yet run into our friend Jose until earlier that day.  We had whizzed by him on our golf cart when we heard a shout “Hola! My friends!”.  We turned the cart around and there was Jose with his big grin and winning ways.  We had not seen him since he had taken such good care of us two seasons previously at Hotel Pariso.  How he recognized us, we will never know.  We stood in the street to get caught up and he shared with us that one of his jobs was selling baking for his friends. When we stayed a couple of years at Pariso and he acting as co-host he would do anything for us.  We asked him each evening as we headed out for dinner, if we could bring anything back for him.  He would sheepishly suggest diet coke and when we would stock him up, you would think that we had given him the most amazing gift in the world.  Jose is one of the many reasons why we love Isla and the islanders so very much.

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Jose recommended the peach pie and we could not get the anticipated taste out of our head!

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So we started our day with a sweet and ended it with another but then again, every day spent on Isla is sweet.

Kath’s quote: “An apple is an excellent thing — until you have tried a peach.”-George du Maurier

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Love-that is all.

 

Isla Mujeres 2013 Day 11

September11

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We can never get enough of Ziggy and even though we had dined at Monchi’s the night before, we saw him at our next meal at Café Cito in the morning.

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D chose the fresh fruit and Mexican eggs and I once again had the scrambled eggs and sautéed potatoes.

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The piece de resistance at Café Cito is the toast (or buns) and the coconut/pear jam.  I can’t get enough of it.

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This was the day that we rented a golf cart and so we boogied around before we settled in for our primary task of the day.

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We were pleased to host a special happy hour that evening in celebration of Sister #2 and Brother #3’s birthday (yes-they are twins).  The preparation made us feel as if we were locals.  I even picked flowers.  Isobel, who’s family owns Luna D’Miel was such a huge help with our preparations.  She is an extraordinary hostess and I would shout her accolades from the mountaintop (except that I am selfish and want to ensure that we can always get our room there).

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Just as our guests started to trickle in, I captured another couple of gorgeous sunset pics.

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Our niece had arrived by this time and even though many of the guests that we had invited did not attend in the end, it was our gang, Jean, Rich, Jan, Bruce and Pollo made an impromptu appearance.  As we had not decided where to go for the evening, we asked Pollo what he would suggest.  He called Sergio over at Limon and low and behold, there was room for us!

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From the outside, I had no idea that the interior would be so sleek and luxurious.  But as gorgeous as the décor was, the food was even better.  We were the last table to arrive that evening and  we knew that we were low persons on the totem pole with the kitchen.  Sergio not only circulates through the dining, he personally oversees everything that comes  out of the kitchen and we know that good food is worth waiting for.

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We were content to catch up with Richelle and imbibe with the red wine that had been poured out at the table.

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After a couple of caprese salad

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and tortilla soups were consumed at our table,

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the staff surmised that we would be more comfortable if we moved out to the gazebo in the garden.  The breeze was lovely and by this time Sergio himself had an opportunity to join us at the table.

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Richelle and I shared the fruita de mare fettuccine-with conch, shrimp and clams.  Tossed in a rich cream sauce, Richelle declared that it was “moan worthy”.

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Doug  tick ‘n chix.

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Donna avocado salad,

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Michael fettuccine bolognaise,

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Kim and Sue hibiscus tacos.  Of the many amazing restaurants on Isla, Limon is now on my “must visit” list for future holidays.

It had been a long day and we were weary.  We decided to grab a cab instead of walking home.  The thing about spending time on Isla is that I am never disappointed when a fabulous days ends because I know that another amazing day awaits…..

Kath’s quote: “This dish is “moan” worthy”. -niece Richelle

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Love-that is all.

The Little Mexican Cooking School-Chilies & Lunch

July23

Last but not least at our culinary adventure at The Little Mexican Cooking School in Puerto Morelos was our study on chilies.  As was explained to us at the school:

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The chili pepper works as a catalyst in Mexican Food, having been served for centuries to modify flavours of a basic country diet, and with the corn and the black beans, it creates a good nutritional balance.  The chile has helped give the Mexican people the ingredients for their best biological development and kept them healthy since pre-Hispanic times.  The lack of essential amino acids makes corn an incomplete protein, but beans contain those in abundance, so together they are a high quality protein.  The chile also contributes vitamin A and C.  As a general rule the littler ones are spicier than the big ones.

Chef Christobal patiently explained the different varieties of chiles utilized in Mexican dishes but I still could not copy them down quickly enough so I found this cheat sheet:

Serrano: A small, fresh, green hot chile. Used for spice and flavor in cooking and as a garnish.

Jalapeño: Larger than a serrano, though still small. This fresh green or red chile is probably the easiest to find in America. The ripe red version is sweeter; the green version can be spicy.

Poblano: A dark green, medium-sized fresh green chile often roasted and stuffed.

Habanero: A tiny, lantern-shaped fresh chile of extraordinary heat. Interchangeable with the incendiary Scotch Bonnet.

Chile de arbol: A small, red dried chile. It’s the chile used for the dried red chile flakes in the spice section of the market.

Chipotle: A medium-small, wrinkled, dried brown chile with a unique smoky flavor reminiscent of bacon. It’s the dried, smoked version of jalapeño.

Chile negro, or pasilla: A long, narrow, dark brown dried chile used for grinding into moles.

Ancho: A medium-sized, wrinkled, brown dried chile with a mellow, earthy, sweet flavor. It’s the dried version of the poblano.

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With this explanation, the theoretical part of our training had concluded but the demonstration of technique was still ahead.  And the best part was that we also had a great deal of tasting to come.  At our first little break, Chef Christobal demonstrated the versatility of chili powder by paring up a fresh pineapple, slicing it and serving it with a glistening of sea salt and chili powder-so refreshingly different.

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Then we prepared our own pico de gallo and guacamole.

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Another ancient Mexican technique was demonstrated to us with “stone” soup where a lava stone is heated and then placed into a soup bowl to finish cooking the ingredients.  This was one of the courses of our lunch finale for the day.

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Our main dish was roasted pork and apples.

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Dessert was a creamy rice pudding.

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Perhaps you have not incorporated learning into your vacations as of yet.  The Little Mexican Cooking School is a great excuse to change all that.  The setting is comfortable and the little touches of the day, a real pampered treat.  You meet wonderful like-minded people and get to share an amazing meal and libations with them.  Isn’t that what vacations are all about?  Well for me, they are and I am looking forward to returning to the school when we next vacation in the area.

Kath’s quote: “The smell of roasting meat together with that of burning fruit wood and dried herbs, as voluptuous as incense in a church, is enough to turn anyone into a budding gastronome.”-Claudia Roden

Love-that is all.

The Little Mexican Cooking School-Tortillas

July22

As Sister #3 mentioned earlier, tortillas are made both from corn and white flour, depending upon whether corn or wheat is the most prevalent crop in the region.  I have never attempted to make my own tortillas and watched eagerly for tips at The Little Mexican Cooking School, in case I got adventurous back home.  Sister #3 who is more at home with Mexican cooking even owns her own tortilla press.  But she does find the process far more complicated than it looks.  Kind of like watching a figure skater and wondering how they make something so difficult, appear so effortless.

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Wherever we dine on Isla Mujeres, stacks of these are delivered to the table to accompany almost every dish.  A trip to the tortilla maker equates to a visit to the baker in Europe or (I am ashamed to say) the bakery department of the grocery store in North America. On this day at The Little Mexican Cooking School,  in Puerto Moreles we made corn tortillas and the ingredients are simple: 4 cups of corn flour and 2 1/2 cups of water.  But, as uncomplicated as the ingredients are, the procedure is an art form.  Mix the corn flour and water, little by little and knead to form a “masa”.  If it’s too dry add a little more water, if too wet, add a little more flour.  Then pinch off a piece of masa and roll it into a golf ball sized sphere.

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Set the ball onto the tortilla press between 2 pieces of plastic. Press the masa, flip and press again for uniform thickness.  Transfer to a hot, dry skillet.  Cook for about 30 seconds on one side, gently turn and cook for about 60 seconds on the 2nd side, turn back to the 1st side for another 30 seconds.  Remove and keep warm.

Chef Christrobal demonstrated this and two other ways to form the tortilla.

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By hand, where the masa is constantly passed back and forth between the palms and flipped and pressed with each motion.  The hand motion was fluid and mesmerizing and we could all see that Chef Christrobal had been proficient at the process for a very long time.

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The third way was between two pieces of plastic on a hard surface where the masa was constantly pressed and pounded (gently) into shape.  Chef Christrobal also sent us home with these tips:

Making tortillas is not difficult, but the right portion of wet and dry is key.  The standard ratio is: 2 cups of corn flour to about 1 1/4 to 1 1/3 cups of water.  The tortilla dough can be worked with your hands without suffering.  It needs to be moist enough to stick together in a ball, but not so moist as to stick to the press like glue.

When making tortillas, the masa can dry out quickly.  Keep it covered with a damp cloth while you are working.

The use of a heavy gauge pan or griddle is important.  You are cooking at a high heat on a dry surface, and a lighter weight utensil can warp.  If you don’t have a comal, a heavy electric frying pan or cast iron skillet both work well.

Brown spots on your tortillas are good-an indication that they are handmade.

Put your tortilla in a breathable container, wrapped in a kitchen towel to keep warm and tender.  Corn tortillas can also be made 2 hours in advance, wrapped and reheated.  Reheat them in a 350 degree oven for about 12 minutes or in a microwave for 1-2 minutes.

Kath’s quote: “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.”-Julia Child

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Love-that is all.

 

 

 

The Little Mexican Cooking School: Chocolate Made with Muscle

July19

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One of the most fascinating things that we learned at The Little Mexican Cooking School in Puerto Moreles was how essential chocolate was and is to Mexican history and culture.  In the gorgeous setting where the classes were conducted, we could not have felt further away from picking up a chocolate bar at the till of a convenience store.  Rain had fallen that morning and the garden around us was rich with aromas and sounds.  This was our setting while we learned about chocolate under the tutelage of Chef Christrobal.

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The cacao tree flourishes in the south east of Mexico.  For thousands of years the Olmecas and then the Mayans have collected the little seeds from the ripe cacao pod.  The seeds were then fermented, sun-dried and then mixed into a drink that they called bitter-water.  Sometimes they would sweeten and flavour it with vanilla, honey or chili.

When the Aztecs ruled the empire, the cacao seeds were used as currency becoming more valuable than gold itself.  Only the richest of the rich could actually consume the food-they were literally “eating and peeing” their money away.  After the Spaniards arrived on Mexican soil and then returned to Europe, chocolate which is closer to the treat that we know today, was created.  We were reminded that chocolate along with the vanilla bean were the two greatest presents from Mexico to the world.

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Chef Christrobal showed us how to roast the cacao seeds on a flat grill called a “comal”.  He constantly moved the seeds around until we started to notice a chocolate aroma.

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Next, he demonstrated how to peel the roasted seed and then place them over a “metate”.  With muscle, he started to mash the seeds gradually adding sugar and then eventually the roasted cinnamon and vanilla.

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The result of the process and all of Chef Christobal’s efforts:

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The procedure was fascinating, the result delicious and Chef Christobal was not too hard on the eyes.  Artesanal chocolate making is one of the many reasons to check out The Little Mexican Cooking School.

Kath’s quote: “The Spanish ladies of the New World are madly addicted to chocolate, to such a point that, not content to drink it several times each day, they even have it served to them in church.”-Jean-Antheleme Brillat-Savarin

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Love-that is all.

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