Pizza and A More-Isla Mujeres 2019

March13

Everybody knows that the world’s best pizza is eaten in Italy and being the pizza lovers that we are, we are constantly drawn to Italy for the food. But consider this: we have eaten amazing pizza elsewhere in the world and some mediocre pizza in Italy. Perhaps it is not the geography that dictates the excellence; but the ingredients, the knowledge and the passion. Case in point, recently before the start of the 2019 Oscars (which we watched in Spanish), we enjoyed a stellar pizza on Isla Mujeres.

Mateo the owner/chef of Pizza and A More and his family have been on Isla for less than a year. They emigrated from Italy via Playa del Carman but made the move to the island in search of a quieter life. He is from Rome and his wife is from Milan. They are expecting their first child this spring.

Upon arrival we were asked if we would care to sit in the garden. When we said yes, we walked through a garage and past an enormous paper mache elephant that had been constructed for the upcoming Carnival. D remarked that it was the biggest piñata he had ever seen. After a spell, a mighty energy burst from the kitchen door. It was Mateo with his enormous grin, his booming voice and his hearty handshake. We knew we would be in good hands.

Walking back and forth to the kitchen he first brought us an amuse bouche-“suppli”. Mateo explained that although many regions of Italy make arancini which we first tasted in Sicily, suppli are characteristically made and served in Rome. The word suppli is the Italianization of the French word for “surprise!”. The Roman snack is formed from of a ball of rice, with bolognaise sauce and mozzarella. (Now unfortunately I am having difficulty getting photos from my phone transferred to my laptop, so I do not yet have the image to share with you).

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We asked Mateo to prepare us his favourite pizza. He must have had a hard time deciding because the one that arrived was a half Italian sausage and mushroom (Boscaiola) and the other half anchovy, capers and black olives (Romana). Mateo explained that he imports his flour, tomatoes and mozzarella from Italy and that the bubbled crunch of the crust is achieved when corn meal is sparingly added to the dough.

We thought that Boscaiola might be a province of Italy that we had not yet travelled through but with research, found that the name implies that mushrooms are a key component, with bosco meaning woods and boscaiola referring to the woodcutter’s wife. Even more pronounced than the mushrooms themselves was the Italian sausage-oh that sausage! The ground pork had a smoky flavour and upon inquiry we learned that the second ingredient is the inclusion of bacon.

The Romana included black olives, and salty capers and anchovies along with the excellent tomato sauce, mozzarella and a dusting of oregano. I typically eat my pizza like a purist that lifts the triangle to my mouth, starts at the tip and ends up at the ridge of crust. This pizza though was so rich that I folded it in half and balanced the pungency of the toppings with the satisfying grounding of the crust.

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As Mateo offered us espresso, he also mentioned his second location closer to Playa Norte to make pizza by the slice available to the beach crowd. His pizza by the slice is thick and hearty as a result of creating denser dough the evening prior and then baking it twice each morning.

Tiramisu will eventually find its way onto the menu along with pastas; once he is able to source pasta flour from Italy. They offer delivery service to the entire island. Mateo indicates that his most loyal customers are the islanders themselves. That is a good enough endorsement for me.

So I ask you, is the best pizza dictated by geography or passion? In this case, I believe that latter makes it so.

Kath’s quote:“There’s a pizza place near where I live that sells only slices. In the back, you can see a guy tossing a triangle in the air.”
Steven Wright

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Love never fails.

 

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Lola Valentina-Isla Mujeres 2019

March11

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We have enjoyed the offerings of Lola Valentina’s for many years. From the rehearsal party of our niece (see link here), to a family breakfast with the Wee Ones (see that link here) and other delicious meals (see another one here), Lola Valentina’s is always on our “must try again list”.

On the evening of this most recent visit, we were joined by my SIL and her Sis, as well as Boo and the Frenchman. Server Abel took care of us and when I say “took care”, I actually mean that he went out of his way to fulfill our every whim. “Would you care for a cocktail?” “Why yes, what would you recommend?” “Well do you like citrus or fruity, would you prefer sweet or tart, would you like a tall or a short drink, on the rocks or blended?”

Abel was from Argentina. We have met hospitality servers from around the world including Israel, Italy and Sardinia. When I teach food and beverage service back home I always tell my students that they will be equipped to work anywhere in the world as long as they keep on top of a couple of essential world languages.

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On this evening, I finally settled upon a mojito with both pineapple and orange juice which was the perfect solution to the questions above and

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the gentlemen in our party ordered Moscow Mules. The latter were served in hammered copper cups with scoops of shaved ice. It was not just our entourage who enjoyed them. Another evening at another restaurant, a man that started a drink conversation with D, recommended them too.

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With our drinks we savoured  a trio platter of Hibiscus Flower Empanadas, Bacon Wrapped Poblano Chilies and a Chorizo Bomba-all crispy and mouthwatering!

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This a close up of one of the forkfuls-fabulous ingredients, well prepared and oh so delectable.

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I also took a photo of our neighbour’s supper which was the gorgeous Grouper in Poblano sauce on mashed potatoes. He declared that it was simply amazing. And later when I had a taste of Boo and the Frenchman’s dinner, I can say-he was right!

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Others at our table enjoyed Fish Tacos and I loved my bite especially when I dipped it into the chimichurri sauce that came with my entree. Abel told us a fascinating tale about an Irish man named  Jimmy McCurry who in the 19th century was traveling with indigenous troupes to fight for the independence of Argentina. Jimmy was alleged to have invented the sauce but Argentinians couldn’t properly pronounce his name and it became chimichurri!

Essentially chimichurri is an uncooked sauce used for grilled meat.  It comes in a green version (chimichurri verde) and a red version (chimichurri rojo). The authentic sauce is made of finely chopped parsley, minced garlic, olive oil, oregano and red wine vinegar.

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There were also oohhss and aawwss over the Coconut Shrimp.

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My dinner was marinated baby octopuss (they did not refer to them as squid) with avocado risotto, greens and fresh edible flowers! Marinated in both wine and beer, they were very tender and bursting with flavour.

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D selected a tantalizing fresh fish special.

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Dessert was another trio platter including Apple Chimichangas, Chocolate Empanadas and Peanut Butter and Jam Empanadas. The desserts besides being luscious were so inventive. The peanut butter and jam concoction was pure genius!

Lola Valentina’s is one of Isla’s well established restaurants but they have not rested on their laurels. They continue to be influenced by their guests wants and needs in addition to expert mixology and adventurous cooking.

Kath’s quote: “I’d like to be under the sea in an octopus’s garden in the shade.”-Richard Starkey

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Love never fails.

 

 

 

 

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The Frenchman’s Birthday

February20

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We are a family who loves to celebrate. In fact recently the eldest Wee One, listed the 7 birthdays between now and September. She leads the time of sharing where we go around the dinner table and tell the birthday boy or girl, what we love about them. With regards to the Frenchman, whose birthday we celebrated in advance last weekend, she declared that she loves him because she could hug him for hours.

The birthday person also gets to decide what we will share for supper and what dessert will be served. The Frenchman typically chooses pork ribs but this year he requested steak with hot fudge sundaes for dessert. The fudge recipe is D’s Mom’s and is often requested by the gang. But back to the steaks, D went out and purchased an entire strip-loin. He cut the steaks himself but decided that they should be marinated because he was concerned about a line of silver skin that he detected. The process took place overnight and added a ton of flavour as well as greater tenderness.

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He spent the day in the kitchen and assembled a complete dinner worthy of a high end steakhouse: Cesar salad with homemade croutons, garlic mushrooms, baked potatoes with green onions, sour cream, butter, and a pound of bacon made into bacon bits. Steamed green beans rounded off the plate. The Wee Ones had triple servings of them.

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I love this picture that I took as we got organized to sit down. You can see J’s baby bump. I will be a Glamma again in May!

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The youngest is three and not a baby any more.

So what do I love about the Frenchman? I love how devoted he is to our youngest daughter. I love how he fits like a glove into our family. I love his passion and perseverance. I love his heart-his enormous kind, tender, loving, compassionate heart!

Kath’s quote: “Sometimes you never know the value of a moment until it is a memory”. -Dr. Seuss

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Love never fails.

 

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Raw Almond 2019

February19

D has worked for a number of years importing flowers to be sold in many retail places. Many of the blossoms come from Colombia, South America and recently a gentleman from Colombia temporarily moved to Canada to assist with the business. Rodrigo marvels at the winters here and loves the beauty of the frozen landscape. D thought that it would be fun for him to experience Raw Almond where architects design a pop up restaurant right on the frozen river where the Red and Assiniboine rivers meet. And so it was that D invited another couple along and the five of us brunched together.

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Architects also design warming huts along the winter river trail and this one by a Chicago architect caught my eye. It kind of captures my reality. In a couple of sleeps, we will be in summer-like weather of Isla Mujeres, but this week we were brunching on a frozen river.

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From the outside, this looked like a mound of snow covered by a tarp and more snow but inside it was this lovely space with Jenga-like wooden slats pieced together perfectly. I was especially impressed by the arc of this one of two dining rooms. The temperature when we arrived was pleasant enough to doff our coats and by the time we left I was darn right toasty.

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We found places on the wooden slats to hang our coats and we shared one long communal table. This might not go over in many places in the world but on the Canadian prairies it has the same festive atmosphere as a church basement fall supper but elevated by the culinary creativeness of two local Chefs-Talia Shire and Ben Kramer. Having tasted their fare many times previously I knew that we were in for a treat.

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First up was a potato dumpling (we are the land of perogies after all), with shredded pork and a poached egg. The egg was topped with hemp gomashio (a typical Asian condiment or topping usually made with sesame seeds). Then the servers came around with thermal canisters of hot pork broth which got poured over top. The little bowl was very tasty indeed.

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This dish was my personal favourite.  A beet and yam hash was topped with poached pike and then with dill hollandaise. A kale cole slaw accompanied. We eat a lot of pike up at our summer house and I was very impressed with this version. The pike was meaty and perfectly cooked and the hollandaise took it up a good couple of notches to stellar.

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A handsome dollop of braised beef cheeks was perched on top of a creamy polenta. Grated manchego cheese (I eat a lot of it in Mexico)  and a hint of horseradish adorned the dish and the combinations were a resounding success.

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I was done by this time but could not resist the three pancake medallions topped with marscapone and a fruit coulis. A fun element was added-that of puffed grains (and not just wheat that you might have had as a kid). The dish satisfied the need for a Brunch dessert.

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We decided to walk off the four food servings with a stroll on the river. En route we found an ice bar where drinks were served in these stylish ice tumblers. The walk was pleasant in one direction but a bit nippy in the other. Remember we were accompanied by someone from Colombia. I believe that he was especially cold and so we headed back up to the cars and enjoyed the winter scenes from a decidedly warmer vantage.

Kath’s quote: “Going to a restaurant is one of my keenest pleasures. Meeting someplace with old and new friends, ordering wine, eating food, surrounded by strangers, I think is the core of what it means to live a civilised life”.-Adam Gopnik

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Love never fails.

 

 

 

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Casa O’s Lime Soup from Cocina Islena

February13

On my first vacation on Isla Mujeres (2005), we mistakenly stayed near Punta Sur not knowing the layout of the Island. Now there were some benefits…we walked so much we didn’t have to worry about our calorie intake, there was a beautiful quiet pool at our villa and the sunrises on the craggy cliffs were exquisite.

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I couldn’t find any food photos from that evening but I did find this blast from the past. The three sisters taken that night at Casa O’s.

One evening we walked the dark road to see what might still be open and couldn’t find a thing but with research we discovered Casa O’s and set out to celebrate my sister’s birthday on one of our last evenings on the island.

I can’t tell you a whole lot about what we ate and drank but I can tell you that the Lime Soup was a.m.a.z.i.n.g! On subsequent trips to Isla we heard that Casa O’s owners Lynn and Tom McGrath decided that they had to close the restaurant. Does anyone know what is in that space now?

Anyhoo the reason for that preamble is that I found the recipe for their soup in my Cocina Islena Cookbook. Here’s what it indicates with the recipe:

This Maya-style soup was a favorite of Paul Newman when we had Casa O’s restaurant. We didn’t have any photographs of Paul enjoying his meals as we didn’t want to bother him or create a fuss when he was in our restaurant. What a great, great guy he was.

Here’s the recipe:

Casa O's Lime Soup from Cocina Islena
Author: 
Recipe type: Appetiser
Cuisine: Mexican
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
 
In the Yucatan , where the recipe for Sopa de Lima originated, it is made from Yucatan "limas agrias" which translates as sour lemons.
Ingredients
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 2 tomatoes
  • ½ white onion
  • 2 sweet chilies
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1 whole head of garlic
  • 1 pound of limes
  • ½ T cinnamon
  • dash of herb, epazote
  • 2 pieces fresh mint
  • 1 quart of chicken broth
  • 2 T liquid Knorr Swiss Chicken flavoring
  • olive oil to sauté vegetables
  • ground pepper to taste
  • corn tortillas and/or fresh crusty bread
Instructions
  1. Pour chicken broth into a pot large enough to hold all ingredients-approximately 2 quarts.
  2. Roast chicken in an oven, or barbeque and shred into pieces when cooled and add to pot.
  3. Cut corn tortillas into ½ inch strips and fry in hot oil until hardened but not crisp.
  4. Drain on paper towels, lightly salt and set aside. (These will be used as a garnish on top of the soup).
  5. Chop tomatoes, onion, chillies, and celery, sauté in a T of olive oil until soft-add to pot.
  6. Mince and sauté garlic, add to mixture.
  7. Add spices such as cinnamon, fresh mint, black pepper and epazote.
  8. Add Knorr Swiss Chicken Flavoring to mixture.
  9. Slice limes into thin circles, add to pot, (reserve one slice per bowl to use as a garnish).
  10. Simmer ingredients together for 15 minutes until the vegetables are soft and the flavors are melded.
  11. Reheat tostadas (fried tortilla) strips.
  12. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and float a lime slice on top of the soup.
  13. Decorate each bowl with a few reheated tostada chips.
  14. Cut up fresh crusty bread-serve with soup.
  15. Pretend Paul Newman is your dinner companion.
  16. Enjoy!

Over the years we have found many other Isla restaurants that do a good job of Lime Soup too….La Lomita for one!

Kath’s quote: “A person can only be judged by their actions, and not by their good intentions or their beliefs.”-Paul Newman

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Love never fails.

 

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