We spent the day last Saturday on an expedition down to Baja with Queso Diego. Our destination was La Cava de Marcelo, a small dairy farm and cheese making operation located about 45 minutes east of Ensenada on the road to San Felipe.
As is often the case in Mexico, the trip down was a bit of an adventure with some bumps (some figurative, some literal) along the way, but we eventually found ourselves in a lovely setting - glass of wine in hand.
We took a tour of the operation, complete with the requisite calf-petting station:
a visit to the cheese-making area:
and, of course, some tasting - ricotta (good) and butter (great!) on smoky grilled bread:
The cheese cave is set down into the basement of one of the buildings:
The cave also doubles as a tasting area where we tried the pressed cheeses - plain and three flavors - basil, black pepper, and rosemary. We also tried the same basic cheese, but aged 6 months, 1 year, and 2 years.
There is also a restaurant on premises where we enjoyed a very nice dinner from their interesting and varied menu.
We picked up a round of their cracked pepper-flavored cheese to take home with us:
Cheers to Queso Diego for organizing the trip!
Monday, November 25, 2013
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
We picked up Andrea Nguyen's excellent book, Asian Tofu, on a whim a couple of years ago. We haven't historically eaten a lot of tofu, but the idea that you could make it at home seemed intriguing.
Why make your own tofu? It is just better than what you can buy at the store. It tastes better and has a nicer texture. And once you get the hang of it, it really isn't that difficult to do. Our first batch was a revelation, and ever since then we've been making fresh, homemade tofu on regular basis.
It all starts with soy beans. Soak them overnight and they turn from hard little round balls into the familiar bean shape:
They get blended with cool water:
until you have a smooth, frothy milkshake type mixture:
The bean puree gets put into a pot with some additional water and heated over medium high heat until a thick foam layer forms on top - similar to fluffy, beaten egg whites. You need to watch the pot carefully here, as the foam forms suddenly and rises quickly toward the top of the pot. It's pretty obvious when the change occurs - take it off the heat at that point.
Set a colander over another pot and line it with fine cheesecloth or butter muslin. Ladle in the cooked mixture and let it drain.
Once the solids have cooled enough, you need to twist, prod, and squeeze the mass to extract as much soy milk as you can. It's the soy milk that will eventually be made into tofu.
Inside the bag you have the ground up soy bean solids, called the lees. They get a little more water added to them and then the cheese cloth gets squeezed again, removing even more soy milk. The lees can be discarded or cooked in other products. They're grainy and don't have much flavor, but still contain nutrients.
The resulting soy milk gets cooked at a very low simmer for five to ten minutes in order to make it fully digestible.We don't typically use soy milk directly, but if you do then at this stage you have your own homemade version.
Finally a coagulant needs to be added, causing the soy milk to set into curds, similar to making cheese - but easier! We've used a couple different coagulants. The one pictured below is gypsum, a water hardener purchased at our local home brew supply shop. It's a fine white powder mixed with water before stirring into the soy milk.
More recently we've been using nigari, a clear liquid of salts made from sea water. It can be found at Japanese supermarkets. In our experience, the nigari makes a more smoothly textured tofu.
The warm soy milk gets strongly agitated while blending in the coagulant, then it is set aside to rest for about five minutes. A little more coagulant is added to the surface, and after another five minutes or so, milky curds will have formed and separated from the clear, yellowish liquid. At this point it can help to gently press the curds in the pot and scoop out as much liquid as possible before attempting to deal with the curds.
For the block tofu we've been making, the curds need to be ladled into a cloth-lined mold for shaping and pressing.
We don't have a traditional rectangular tofu mold, but we happen to have a wooden sushi box press (an oshizushi mold), and it has served us well. You can also use a lined colander or other mold - it just needs to have outlets to release the excess liquid.
Depending upon the firmness you desire, pressing only takes 15 to 30 minutes. Of course the time is also dependent upon the amount of weight applied. As you can see here, we've been a bit creative in our selection and application of weights...
We generally press the block to about three-quarters of its original height. Then it gets submersed in cool water to help it set before moving it to a storage container.
We've had good success with keeping it fresh in the refrigerator for more than a week - the key is to keep it completely covered with water, by at least half an inch. However, this tofu is so good and tasty that it rarely lasts that long!
For exact instruction for making various styles of tofu, along with a host of great recipes for using it, I highly recommend the book that got us started - Andrea Nguyen's Asian Tofu.
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
When we are in a new place and looking for something to eat, I'm notorious with my wife for questing to find that spot that just feels right. Sometimes the quest is difficult and fraught with tired feet and growling bellies. Other times everything rolls easy.
This was one of those easy-rolling times.
We had passed Cocteles Vallarta the day before while wandering along Avenida del Pacifico, and had noted that it looked nice and relaxed. We saw some gentlemen sitting in the corner seats with their view over the beach and I thought - those guys have the best seats in the house.
Cue the next afternoon and we are strolling around the beach looking for someplace to eat, and the best seats in the house ended up being ours:
We spent several fantastic hours eating seafood, sometimes watching the scene at the beach and, more often than not, watching the chef of the mariscos stand do his thing.
It was a lot like watching a really good bartender go about his business. But while a refreshing drink was easily obtained, the business here was not drinks, but fresh seafood.
We started with a tostada mixta - a tostada of mixed seafood. This was definitely up there with the best I've ever had. Super fresh tasting, with lots of citrus. Really good.
We followed that with some tacos - fish and shrimp. Both were lightly battered and fried - in what I think of as "Ensenada-style". They were great - we hoovered them up before I thought to take a picture.
Satiated for the moment, we sipped on our beers and enjoyed watching a host of orders being prepared for a happy and easy-going group of costumers - ceviches, plates of fried fish and shrimp, and substantive seafood cocktails (made with a fresh base, not the thickly sweet ketchupy stuff I don't like).
It was hard to miss the pile of huge clams sitting on the counter:
We watched them be shucked, sliced and made into cocktails. They were also being made into a some sort of preparation in a bowl. We had been thinking about having another tostada mixta, but my eyes went from the bowl to "almeja preparada" (prepared clam) on the menu and we decided on that instead.
I'm glad we did:
This was perhaps the single best thing we had on our visit to Playas. Fresh clam meat, elaborated much like a cerveza preparada - with lime juice, onion, cilanro, clamato, hot sauce and a hit of maggi. Much like making a bloody mary.
The result was perfect - bright, tangy, savory and altogether very pleasant to eat. Even amidst all of of the other strong flavors, the clam maintained a definite taste of its own. And its texture was great and varied - with some bits more firm and others softer.
Eating at Cocteles Vallarta was a great experience, and one I just can't imagine having north of the border. We hope to be back soon.
Friday, July 19, 2013
While we didn't specifically plan for our hotel during our weekend stay in Playas de Tijuana to be right around the corner from Tacos Aaron, we were certainly very pleased about it.
Tacos Aaron is a great example of the "Tacos Varios" style in Tijuana. "Tacos Varios" isn't very descriptive, but in Tijuana it means what we learned as tacos de guisado (stew) in Mexico City. While there are a few elements of some tacos that are prepared on the flattop, the majority of the tacos are made from pre-prepared stews. And they are fantastic.
Tacos Aaron sets up shop in the morning, and slings a steady stream of food until they run out - usually around 2-3 in the afternoon. Their most popular offering is probably the birria taco:
Slow-braised beef in a wonderfully spiced chile sauce.
They also have a "Quesabirria" taco, which ups the ante with a layer of cheese. We were toward the end of service and they were out of cheese, but we got one on a previous visit to their other truck (outside the Calimax in Colonia Soler):
I think I generally prefer the purity of the straight birria taco, but for pure indulgence it is hard to argue with the quesabirria.
We also had a few of their other tacos. This is the pollo adobado:
It was served with a terrific rich and roasty sauce.
And the milanesa:
This was probably our least favorite of their tacos, but it was still pretty damned good.
The next morning, we hit up the truck again - this time for breakfast. We got the chorizo con huevo enchilado:
Scrambled egg in a vibrant chile sauce, with large chunks of tasty chorizo. Really good.
Less attractive, but maybe even better tasting was the machaca con huevo:
The eggs were luxurious in a fantastic salsa verde. I could easily eat this for breakfast every day.
There are still a few taco varieties we have yet to try. We're looking forward to visiting them again and continuing to explore their menu. You should, too.
Tacos Aaron Paseo Pedregel, just southwest of the Plaza Coronado shopping center Playas de Tijuana Baja California, Mexico
Thursday, July 18, 2013
Within an hour of arriving for our weekend in Playas de Tijuana we were eating lunch at Mariscos Titos. We'd been there before on a Turista Libre trip, so it made for a comfortable first stop.
Mariscos Titos is located just east of the Plaza Coronado shopping center. Here is their menu:
We started with a fish ceviche tostada:
Even though the base had some mayo in it, which I'm not very fond of, it was very tasty.
We also had a few tacos - the camarón enchilado:
and the pulpo enchilado:
Both were good, but a bit more "goopy" than I would like. I think we would have done better to order the simpler tacos.
As I mentioned earlier, we stopped here on an earlier trip with Turista Libre.
That time we had the "New York Camarón" taco:
This was a beast of a taco - a bunch of shrimp scattered on top of a thin steak, with a healthy dose of cheese underneath. Pretty much a meal in itself.
Mariscos Titos certainly wasn't the best food we had during our visit, but it was good. The service is friendly and the atmosphere is active and pleasant.
Mariscos Titos Corales 107 Playas de Tijuana 22000 Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
We spent last weekend at the beach in Mexico. Not in Cancun or Puerto Vallarta, or even Cabo, Ensenada or Rosarito. We were in Tijuana.
The fact that, of course, Tijuana has a beach doesn't seem to even occur to most visitors from the US. I'll admit that we had never been there until last year. The beach neighborhood is called Playas de Tijuana, and it is both similar to and different from the beaches north of the border.
Playas juts right up against the border with the United States. And by "juts right up against", I really mean it - here is the border fence:
A wooden boardwalk runs south from the border, along a beach filled with people enjoying the weather and the waves. Vendors abound selling corn on the cob and in a cup ("vasitos"), chicharrones, ice cream and other snacks.
Just ing from the boardwalk is a steep cliff that leads up to Avenida del Pacifico, a seaside street lined with mariscos stands and restaurants. And a fancy new 7-Eleven:
If there is a 7-Eleven with a better view, I'm not aware of it...
We stayed a few blocks from the beach at the Dali Suites, which we really enjoyed:
And, of course, we ate very well. Here are some additional posts on some of the great food we ate while in Playas:
Fantastic "Tacos Varios" - birria and much more.
Fantastic seafood right by the beach.
Solid seafood offerings in a relaxed atmosphere.
Thursday, June 27, 2013
I don't know how it is that we weren't aware of yeasted, or raised waffles until a few years ago. I do know that we no longer make them any other way.
Adding yeast to the batter and letting it work its magic overnight decidedly improves the texture and taste of waffles. They end up airier and with a more complex flavor. And they aren't really any more difficult to make - you just need to remember to mix up the batter the night before.
Here is the recipe we use. If you've never tried it, I highly recommend you give it a go. You may well become converts like we are.
Serves 4. A Belgian waffle iron with deep groves works well with this batter. Recipe from Marion Cunningham's "The Breakfast Book".
1 package active dry yeast, or 2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 cups milk, warmed
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
The night before, find a large bowl big enough to allow the batter to expand to twice its volume (it will rise and fall overnight). Mix together all of the waffle ingredients except the eggs and baking soda (Note: if using active dry yeast, add it to the water for a few minutes before stirring in the remaining ingredients). Stir well, cover and let sit at room temperature overnight.
In the morning, crack the eggs into a small bowl and beat with a fork. Add the baking soda and eggs to the batter and stir well.
Heat a waffle iron over medium high heat. Pour in about one scant cup of batter, and close the iron. If using a stove-top waffle iron, turn after about 30 seconds, then turn every 2 to 3 minutes until the steam reduces drastically (about 8 minutes for us). Remove the waffle when the outside is golden and crisp. Keep warm in a low oven. Avoid stacking the waffles to help keep them crisp.
Leftovers can be frozen and then reheated in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until crisp and hot.