Thursday, December 31, 2009

cooks illustrated

For hangover mornings we like making chilaquiles con todo.

Huachinango al Ajillo: Snapper baked with lots of butter, garlic, and dried guajillo peppers. PJ had this at a seafood restaurant La Veracruzana and its his favorite.
It went well with a cold, raw chayote salad.

Quesadillas Fritas
Our favorite food stand is on the corner of Colima and Morelia streets in the neighborhood called Roma. A lifeless white monolith by day, it folds out into a bright oasis from seven to eleven pm, eminating light, warmth, and delicious smells. Inside the stand a mother and her grown son make warm comforting food for the hungry crowd. During the holiday, hot Ponche (a fruit and cane drink) is served from a bucket over fire. The stand specializes in quesadillas fritas skillfully crafted by the mother always with a calm friendly face. The experience is magical and we are mesmerized by the performance for the entire thirty minutes of waiting.

The other night, we made our own. We would first press a ball of fresh masa dough into a disc with the tortilla press and then add the filling of oaxaca cheese and rajas. The tortilla is folded and sealed in a half-moon shape and then fried in vegetable oil. The familiar sensory experiences made us feel as if we were huddling near the hot fryer of the quesadilla stand.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Shoe Leather

A few notes about my favorite way to get around...

Subway- For some reason, I was programmed to feel nervous about taking the Metro in Mexico City. I have some news... It's the cleanest, most efficient joy ride you can imagine. We've never had to wait more than 20 seconds for a train. At certain times of day, they reserve the front half for women and children. Vendors come onto the cars, no surprise, but yes surprise to what they sell: Algebra textbooks, rubix cubes, and laminated copies of the Periodic Table. I love science and math, I'll take five of each! I also love the music vendors (usually blind) who walk in with a stereo strapped to their chest blasting Ace of Base or No Doubt. The whole system must move millions of people through the city per second, and it only costs 2 pesos a ride (15 cents).

-PJ

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Teotihuacan

Kenny, just being himself

Ashland sits on "The Moon Pyramid" and wonders why none of the structures have rooms

Bad boys enjoy an off-limits side of the pyramid

Man basks while we catch our breath and talk about Michael Jackson

The sun as seen from "The Sun Pyramid"

Our friend Ashland was in town for the week and encouraged us to take a trip out to the pyramids (something we'd been meaning to do). The chachki vendors were out in full force, of course, and one guy followed behind Kenny while massaging his back with a polished obsidian ball. They also gave us quite a fright blowing these whistles that actually sound like growling jaguars. The pyramids are breathtaking and the atmosphere is strangely quiet and serene. It was a well-needed escape from our busy city-life. Haha, yeah, we're real busy...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"The biggest X-mas tree in the world!"



Brought to you by PEPSI

Just to clear up some rumors... This is one tree that cycles through many colors and displays.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Recipe: Huachinango a la Veracruzana

While I was making the last huachinango dinner, I was told of a traditional preparation for this local fish: Huachinango a la Veracruzana. The whole fish is cooked in a spicy tomato sauce with olives. That was the only thing I knew about the dish but all I needed to know. This was really the dream meal for me at the moment, a simple mexican dish with flavors similar to those of Morocco. Tomato is simmered until sweet with aromatics, spiced mildly with jalapenos, and dotted with briny olives. Cooking the whole fish in the sauce allows the essence of the fish to spread throughout, harmonizing the flavors.

serves 2:

2 T olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 jalepeno, sliced
1 lb fresh tomatoes, chopped
1/2 c green olives, smashed and pitted
2 small red snappers, cleaned and trimmed
1 T chopped fresh parsley

Heat oil in a pan that has a lid and is wide enough to fit the fish. Sweat onions, then add garlic and jalepeno and cook for one minute. Add tomatoes and a generous pinch of salt and simmer untill soft. Add olives and simmer a minute before giving it a stir and placing the fish in the sauce. Cover and cook about ten minutes on low. Serve fish whole with sauce and parsley.


-Kenny

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

El Grafico

The highlight of every morning living in New York was walking past the newsstand on my way to the subway. The daily journals would compete for the most eye-catching front page with a clever and punny headline. The New York Post would usually take the cake. Here's one of my favorites:
The stories advertised on the cover tended to be a little trashy, but also quite tame and humorous. "Oh No! Bedbugs are Back!"

Now, the papers here in Mexico City certainly know how to kick it up a notch. The most eye-catching of all: El Grafico. Viewer discretion is advised...


So, I can't say that walking past the newsstand here is the best part of my day, but it is always interesting. I also don't know Spanish well enough to determine if the headlines are puns -I hope not! Everyday -without fail- the front page has a sexy body, a violent crime scene, and a dead person. I'm having some vague school-memory of Freud's three "psychological drives" being sex, aggression, and death...?

-PJ

Dot Com

I've been a little busy lately putting together a website of my artwork: pjrountree.com
Kenny, his family, and my mother teamed up to reunite me with my external hard-drive over Thanksgiving. I'm so grateful to all of them!

-PJ

Saturday, December 5, 2009

doritos

We had two new friends over for dinner on thursday. That morning I bought huachinango (red snapper) at the San Juan Mercado, which is always crazy and fascinating. Its where you can buy interesting things like dog (which is what PJ told our guest we were serving). I walked past a five foot heap of dead suckling pigs on my way to the seafood. I then bounced between four teams of vendors before settling on some snapper selling for 240/kilo. It was a fru-fru dish: corn stuffed snapper with coconut corn broth and cabbage salad. PJ made an excellent guac and the famous crema-tomato-green chili dip which is always eaten with Doritos.

The Mexican Dorito recipe is far better than the USA's. They're a bit spicier and they even have a touch of fresh cilantro flavor.
-Kenny

Teva


Teva and I have been together for five years. She was born in New Orleans and has since lived in Ohio, LA, Philadelphia, and New York. Now she's here with us in Mexico!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Proud American

"She's African."
"Africa's a big place, can you be more specific?"
"She's Ethiopian."

In this example dialogue, we see the difference between continental identity and national identity. Kenny and I have been taking Spanish classes, and one of the classic introductory exercises is talking about where you are from. Our luminous instructor Maria states, "I am from Mexico. I am Mexican." Now it's our turn, "I am from the United States. I am... American...?"

It's hard to look a Mexican in the eye and say "I am American", as we do share the continent. I think it's wild that the English language doesn't have an adjective to describe someone or something as being from the United States of America. (England, Great Britain...English, British). I asked Maria if such a word exists in Spanish -it does! United States translates to "Estados Unidos" and the adjective version is "Estadounidense". I guess that would be "Unitedstatesan" in our language? Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.

It makes me rethink terms like "African-American" and "Mexican-American". But don't worry, I won't rethink too hard about it.

Tangent-
Our class of six had three Germans and three Unitedstatesans, including Kenny and me. We learned a lot about our cultural differences. Maria asked each of us what we "do" and what our life goals are:

German #1: I am a flight-attendant. I want to be happy.
German #2: I work in a chemical plant.
German #3: I study economics, and I want to save the world.

US Citizen #1: I studied literature... I've been out of school for about a year...
German #3 (perplexed): Yes, but what do you do? Do you want to write a book?
US Citizen #1: Nah, I don't really want to write... I'm thinking of going to Grad School...
Maria: Maybe he'll become a teacher. Kenny, you're next.
Kenny: I want to own a vegetable farm.
PJ's eyes: What??
Maria: Where will that be?
Kenny: Mexico, or maybe California.
PJ: Wow Kenny, will this farm have a restaurant?
Kenny: Yes.
PJ: I don't have a job, but I want to be an artist.

In conclusion, Germans have their shit together, but US Citizens have more fun.

-PJ

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The PEOPLE! UNITED! Can Never Be...

Defeated? Divided? I don't remember, but whatever they're saying in Spanish rhymes beautifully. I joined a massive political protest today and played the role of "curious journalist" as I snaked through the crowd. I'm not sure exactly what it was about this time, but the chanting and collective energy brought me right back to San Francisco in March of 2003! We've learned that the utility unions (such as electricity) often flex their power in the streets and paralyze the main traffic arteries downtown. Many locals actually get annoyed with how many protests there are, but I find it kind of refreshing. The march culminated in the Zocalo, where I saw banners saying something about "telefonistas", so maybe it has to do with the phone company? I'll find out tomorrow from the real journalists...

"Yes We Can!"

Someone had the foresight to ensure monuments wouldn't be wheat-pasted or graffiti'd. (Saran Wrap, click image to enlarge.)

I still can't figure out the message, but they did scare me a little. Points for creativity.

Of course, the highlight of my protest experience was discovering a new favorite curb-side snack: one enormous tortilla chip smothered with refried beans, with cilantro, cactus, salsa, and cheese thrown on top. I loved it -you get to eat your plate.

-PJ

Monday, November 9, 2009

Huitlacoche


Huitlacoche, also known as corn smut, is a fungus that grows inside the ears of corn and is a common ingredient in Mexican cuisine. The fungus usually enters the plant through the ovaries (young immature kernels) where it starts to grow large, distorted, mushroom-like tumors in place of where the kernels grow. In recent years the shroom has been hyped up in the US culinary world, where its been given the name Mexican Truffle.

A couple years ago my friend Kevin introduced it to me and I had it once or twice in restaurants, but it always seemed overpowered or in too little quantity for me to really get a sense for what it’s all about. Saturday night I ordered a huitlocoche quesadilla from a street vendor, a sweet sweet mother and son team using really fresh ingredients. The filling, an inky black paste with a couple loose strands of corn silk, was earthy but extremely mild. I knew I had to cook with this ingredient myself to really understand it.

The next morning Ricardo took us to the Mercado San Juan, the Gourmet market. Every neighborhood has its own Mercado- a huge bustling indoor market with produce stands, butchers, florists, crafts, and diner-style food. The Mercado San Juan, which is a little expensive, carries things I haven’t seen in other mercados, let alone anywhere else ever. This is where I found huitlacoche. At one stand, a woman was selling the whole infected cob, with a window removed from the husk to show off the swollen grey mass. I settled for a cheaper vendor selling a pack for 20 pesos.


The texture of raw huitlacoche is nothing like any other mushroom. It seems to be more succulent, containing more water, possibly because the fungus matter is corn, enlarged diseased kernels, corn plant cells. At the same time the interior of these growths are dry, filled with dark powdery spores. The growths are smooth and brittle, but slightly tougher towards their base. One of the most unusual things about this product is its color. Light grey is rarely appetizing.

I knew the flavor of huitlacoche is delicate, when I tasted it raw it was virtually tasteless. I cooked it in a traditional way, chopping it small and sautéing in butter with onion and garlic. Towards the end I added a bit of chopped fresh epazote, a fairly strong herb used here in Mexico that has a wild flavor like tarragon crossed with gasoline. The huitlacoche seemed to take ten minutes of cooking to develop the right flavor, all the while turning a deeper black in color. It tasted slightly sweet and earthy like the mud on a fresh Maine clam. The most unusual thing about it was the balance of being so delicately flavored with the feeling of intense richness in the mouth.

In addition to the huitlacoche (by the way this translates as “raven shit”) I cooked some button mushrooms with adobo sauce. They were spooned onto delicate freshly hand made corn tortillas by PJ and topped with his avocado cream. Another sauce of chipotle-tomato brought the heat. There was also kale sautéed with cumin.

huitlacoche on the right
-Kenny

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

cooking post

These are attempts to recreate some basic local dishes.

Chilaquiles. Tortilla Chips softened in salsa roja topped with egg, crema, onion.

Corn, mayonnaise, queso, lime juice, chile piquin, cilantro.

Pinto Bean Enchilada. The sauce is roasted onions, tomatoes, poblanos, and garlic pureed with chipotle, cilantro, and lime juice. (It's essentially the sauce I've been making for every dish this week.)

TLACOYOS. Fresh masa (corn) dough is folded around refried beans. We bought a tortilla press today.

Topped with salsa roja, nopales (cactus pads), spinach and queso.

-Kenny

Monday, November 2, 2009

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Mindscrapers: Part 2


This building is called "Tree Tower"

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Artist Profile: Pedro Friedeberg

I stumbled upon a retrospective exhibition of this guy's work at the Bellas Artes museum. Pedro Friedeberg was born in Italy in 1936, but his family fled to Mexico soon after. He's lived here ever since. He studied architecture in college and went on to become a painter and furniture designer. In fact, he invented the hand chair!That was a surprise. (Growing up, my mom insisted on having a plastic hand chair prominently displayed in our living room.)

Here's a glance at his playful and meticulously crafted paintings:
He's been working consistently in this style since the 1960s. I highly recommend reading his artist's statement. Pedro Friedeberg is a true poet!

-PJ