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Archive for the ‘food fun’ Category

The next day in Oaxaca we took a class in Zapotec cooking, offered by Casa de los Sabores. Our instructor, chef Reyna Mendoza, is a native of Teotitlan del Valle, a Zapotec village where she grew up learning traditional cooking techniques from her mother.

Our class began with a trip to a market nearby, La Merced, where we could find the freshest ingredients for the meal that we were about to prepare.

At the market, Reyna showed us the differences between several kinds of chile. I believe the two shown are guajilla (left) and ancho (right).

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Oaxaca is known to be the “land of seven moles.” Chocolate, which is a component in some of these moles, is an ingredient commonly sold at the markets. These chocolate chunks are usually made of chocolate mixed with cinnamon and sugar.

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We picked up some fresh chicken,

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tomatoes,

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tomatillos,

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cheese,

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squash blossoms,

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and homemade flour tortillas from a woman who comes to the market to sell her steaming hot, towel-wrapped tortillas.

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We also got to sample empanadas de huitlacoche con quesillo (empanadas with corn fungus and Oaxacan string cheese), cooked on a large comal.

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Huitlacoche is harvested and available fresh only during the rainy season.

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We returned to the kitchen, where the five of us, along with our instructor and assistants, created the following menu. We were not allowed to take photos during the class (too distracting), so here are photos of the completed dishes.

Enchiladas de Mole con Pollo (mole enchiladas with chicken)

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Ensalada de Nopales con Aderezco (cactus salad with dressing)

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Indias Vestidas (figurative name for fried, cheese-stuffed squash blossoms)

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Salsa de Miltomate y Chile Pasilla de Oaxaca (tomatillo and Oaxacan pasilla chile salsa)

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Helado de Frambuesa (raspberry ice cream)

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We are excited about recreating these recipes someday, and sharing the recipes and results here.

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We like to walk down to Pike Place Market about once a month. The market is usually teeming with tourists, but the locals also like to go there for the fresh flowers and local produce. Even though it can be slow-going at times, shuffling through all the people, it makes me happy just to see all the brightly colored flowers and fruits and vegetables. Occasionally, a craft from the many vendors will also catch my eye.

Yesterday, at the market, there were stalls and stalls of dahlias, zinnias, and sunflowers.

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We snagged some cherries, the last of the season, at $3.50/lb. I am planning on making cherry clafouti with them, and will write a post about that soon.

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New Haven peaches were also being sold, so I bought one to try. I was told that New Haven’s are free-stone peaches, and mostly used for canning. The skin of the peach was extremely fuzzy, but the fuzz came off easily with a bit of rubbing under a running faucet. The flesh was juicy, but the flavor was a little flat, and not as complex as I had imagined it to be.

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Lately, I’ve been having an obsession with cherry tomatoes. I love how they taste perfect, just as they are. I enjoy the feeling of popping them into my mouth, one at a time, tasting the juicy explosion that results as I clamp down on them with my jaw. It is an expensive addiction to feed, since most small bundles at the supermarkets go for 4 dollars a pop. No matter. Seeing the rows and rows of cherry tomatoes at the market, I had to have them! Scanning the stalls, I came to one offering a variety of small tomatoes at $3.50 a basket. It was too difficult to resist. I had also noticed a sign for Dirty Girl tomatoes earlier on while walking through the market, and knew that I had to try one. And so I bought a Dirty Girl, too (pictured at left of the basket). A dirty girl is larger than your typical cherry tomato, but it tastes very similar — sweet, meaty, and severely juicy at the same time. (I supposed it’s called Dirty Girl because of the mess you could make biting into it, if you’re not careful. We managed to streak a wall with tomato juice.)

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Towards the end of our market jaunt, we found some zucchinis and beets at a great price. 1 dollar a bunch! The sweet girl manning the stall also threw in another bunch of zucchini for us for free. J wanted to make ten-jang chigae with the zucchinis, and I wanted to make a beet risotto. Shockingly, I’ve never cooked with beets before. I have been reading a lot about them recently, about how they are packed with nutrients. I also like how all parts of the beet can be used in your cooking — not just the root, but the leaves and stems as well.

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I left the market exceptionally happy…because of our great finds, and also because J had bought me a bouquet of dahlias.

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cacao beans (lifted from scharffenberger.com)

i may not be a chocolate expert, nor do i obsess over chocolate as some people do, but i do enjoy eating it — mostly in the form of chocolate chip cookies (which i often crave), cakes, hot cocoa, ice cream, and candy bars (especially the ones that contain caramel).

visiting the Scharffen Berger chocolate factory over christmas break, however, further developed my appreciation for chocolate. karen, gene and i made the ten minute trek across the bay to berkeley (courtesy of gene’s driving) and met up with my sister at the factory. the tour itself was mostly educational. we literally sat in a classroom-like room, listening to the tour guide talk about the history of chocolate, the history of Scharffen Berger, and some specifics on the fine art of chocolate-making, while we sampled pieces of 70% cacao bittersweet, 62% cacao semisweet, and 41% cacao milk chocolate. after our crash course on chocolate, we donned shower caps and noise-reducing headsets and took a quick walk through the factory, past the various machinery. i won’t even try to elaborate on what each piece of equipment does. you can find all the details on the scharffen berger website. and of course, the free tour ended with a stop at their store, where you can find everything from gift boxes of truffles to baking chocolate with 99% cacao.

although the chocolate factory was nothing close to what Roald Dahl dreamed up for Willy Wonka, there was one unexpected element of delight…and it wasn’t even part of the tour! prior to the tour, i felt the need to relieve my bladder and was directed to use the restroom adjacent to the Scharffen Berger cafe. as i stepped into the bathroom, a chocolate aroma immediately rushed into my nostrils…pretty soon i was breathing chocolate. not a bad way to have your senses overwhelmed. not bad at all, especially in a place where smells are usually less than um…friendly. how very strategic.

and now, a few interesting tidbits i gathered from the visit:
– the current Scharffen Berger factory was formerly a Heinz factory
– as some of you may know, Scharffen Berger was acquired by Hershey’s about a year and a half ago, but was pretty much left untouched so that it can continue producing gourmet chocolate its own way
– last year, Hershey’s also acquired Dagoba, an Oregon company that produces organic chocolate
– cacao beans are actually the seeds of the cacao fruit. the “beans” are allowed to ferment with the flesh of the fruit, which adds complexity to their flavor
– chocolates with different percentages of cacao, say, 70% versus 62%, do not differ only in the amount of cacao solids they contain, but also differ by their distinct blends of cacao beans (for example, Scharffen Berger’s 70% chocolate happens to have a citrus note to it).

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speaking of chocolate, i was reminded of an italian cafe that i went to during christmas break. my grandma, sister, cousin and i were on a “girls’ day out,” and we were walking around the Marina district. it was a perfect sunshine-y afternoon, but it would get chilly every time the breeze picked up, so we decided to warm ourselves up at this cafe on Chestnut street. my grandma had a cappuccino, i had a latte (soy, to be specific – lactose does a number on me), and my sister and cousin both ordered hot chocolate. “why do we have to sit down to expensive coffee?” my grandma asked. “i’ve got the instant stuff at home.” “grandma, this is the real stuff. it’s better! just enjoy it.” “oh, this doesn’t taste that much better,” she sniffed. but secretly, i think she enjoyed it. i love my grandma. :) i can see myself being the same way at her age.
oh yes, i wanted to get to the hot chocolate. the waiter offered the choice of ordering it with a shot of espresso so that you could make your own mocha, which was what leslie and jodi did. it turned out to be more of a dessert rather than a drink. you don’t sip it. you eat it slowly, with a spoon. i tasted a spoonful and discovered that it was literally “hot chocolate,” which was already beginning to thicken as it cooled. leslie and jodi furiously worked their way through their glasses, bit by bit. and as if that weren’t enough, we made the afternoon even more indulgent by picking out little desserts from the cafe’s dessert case. we couldn’t help ourselves…they were just too tempting, and their miniature size offered us an excuse to “sample” a variety of sweets. our favorite turned out to be a pear-shaped mini cake that was fried and soaked in rum. and i mean SOAKED. so good, so good.

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