La Raza a small taqueria near Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood Washington that makes cream smothered Chimichanga. Let me just say that I'm aware that Chimichangas are no more Mexican than French toast is French. However, there's something very nice about deep fried tortilla with a heavy dose of cream. I think you could deep fry a Taco Bell burrito and smother it in cream and it would be edible (about the only way). Even though I like going to La Raza to pick up a Chimi at lunch I don't always like paying $10 per meal. Although the Chimichanga is large enough to share with someone else I don't always have someone there to share with.
So instead of spending $20 to take my family out for Chimichangas we make them ourselves. For $6.00 I made 7 Cream smothered Chimichangas or roughly 85 cents each. I get my 40% heavy cream from Cash and Carry, tortillas from anywhere, chicken on sale and the rice is dirt cheap no matter what.
Loose instructions for Chimichangas. There's no real recipe because it's largely done by taste.
- Roast 2 cloves of garlic and two Jalapenos on a comal
- Combine garlic and peppers in a food processor with a bit of salt to make a paste
- Add half lb of tomatoes and pulse
- Heat a little oil in a dutch oven and when hot add 1 cup of medium grain rice and cook 5 minutes
- Add tomato salsa from food processor and cook for 5 minutes
- Add 3/4 cup of water or broth and place in oven for 25 minutes
- Grill small strips of chicken breast pieces
- Pour 2 cups of heavy cream in fry pan on medium heat
- Add enough sour cream to thicken
- Add enough sugar to sweeten
- Combine refried beans on large tortilla with rice, chicken and shredded cheese and close with toothpicks
- Fry in deep fryer at 350 degrees until brown, turn over and repeat
- Place Chimichanga on plate and pour cream over
- Sprinkle paprika over cream
That's it really. Making the rice is the most work. If you double the rice recipe you can make these several times in a row or just eat the rice. For me this recipe made about 7 Chimichangas.
Describe Mexico City in two words? Sensory overload! I'm very careful about recommending Mexico City to travellers because of the intensity of it all. I usually ask people where else they've traveled and if they enjoyed it. If they say they just loved Aculpulco, Cancun or PV then I'll probably tell them to keep going to those places. If they say they were in Istanbul and got a kick out of the Grand Bazaar then I'll recommend Mexico City to them. Note that I wouldn't recommend against Mexico City for any of the reasons that people think – crime, pollution or danger in getting sick. I'd recommend against it because it's full force sensory overload and a very foreign place. People get a little miffed when I tell them that Europe is a lot like America. My first trip to England I thought it was some really foreign country and I couldn't believe how hard it was to get around. Now I smile when I think of that because to me England's primary worth is to change airports to catch a plane to a destination with more punch. England outside of an accent difference and not driving on the same side of the road is very much like America. They have most of the same companies, cars, types of foods etc... France is a bit more intense because of the depth of their culture but still if you took a French person and dropped him in the middle of a major US city you'd not be able to find him until he spoke. Mexico City though is a very different story.
Where do I start with Mexico City? If it weren't for the basis in Catholicism and the Spanish colonial buildings we'd have no connection with this country and it's main city. For anyone who's been to the main four or five coastal resort towns I'm going to go out on a limb and say you've not seen anything of Mexico yet. I had a friend that said he really liked adventure so they went to PV (Puerto Vallarta) and one day they ventured outside their resorts gated area and into a “slum” and ate some tacos. If that's adventure I don't know what is! :-)
You might be wondering what makes Mexico City so intense then and that's what I'm about to attempt to answer. I'd relate the experience of going to Mexico City as being more like Istanbul or maybe Morocco than anywhere in Europe, the States or the 5 Mexican resort towns. When flying into Mexico City (or Day Effay as the locals call it – District Federal) at night you're blown away by how far this city goes. It's very difficult to measure a city when it has as many people as this so I'll refrain from throwing around numbers but it's one of the largest in the world along with Tokyo. As a rough comparison you could put New York City, Los Angeles and possibly Chicago in it, so as you can imagine it's immense. It has many social problems which you will no doubt encounter while you're here. I'll talk about those in a minute but for now to give you an impression of Mexico City I'll tell you about our own arrival.
Because of a massive ticket price reduction we flew from Portland Oregon to Atlanta Georgia and then to Mexico City. I love arriving in Mexico City after dark because it gives me a real sense of the size of the city by the lights. The MEX airport looks a lot like 70s concrete prison with wall to wall indoor/outdoor carpet and not much else. So we arrive not knowing if immigration will let us in because our passports are getting ready to expire. There are some countries that will turn you away if you have less than 6 months on them. When the immigration official scanned that first passport, stamped it and handed it back you could have seen all my muscles relax if you'd had your eyes trained on me for very long. He stamped the rest of them, took our immigration cards and welcomed us to Mexico. The next step was to pass through customs and play the “do you want customs officials to manually search your bags lottery” which is always fun. All bags go through giant scanners which to be honest probably aren't even turned on but they make the criminals a bit more nervous. Then after your bag is scanned you take it up to a stand an push a button – if the light turns green you go, if not you get searched. It's always fun and a bit nerve racking. No poker faces here, it's completely random.
After customs you walk out into a series of grand hallways all leading to different places none of which you have any interest in. Your main mission at this point is to get pesos and get a registered taxi. To combat taxi fraud which is rampant you buy your taxi ticket to your destination at a taxi booth and then take the ticket to a taxi. That way no money changes hands between you and the taxi driver. If you think this is just a Mexican problem you'd be very wrong – I wish most of the major cities in Europe would adopt this because it's a major problem there as well. The Mayer of Prague put on a disguise and took three taxis to see how bad it was and he got ripped off twice and the third guy recognized him. This is a problem everywhere and Mexico has found a decent solution for now. Mexico also had a problem with taxi drivers taking you to your ATM and helping you decide how much money you need to take out as well but that's a different story.
So we get our registered taxi which is a Chevy HHR – a definite improvement over last time which was a little rattle trap with a back door that wouldn't close all the way - I'm sure you can use your imagination. I have to take a break for a second just to mention that walking into Mexico City is like being drawn into a Roger Rabbit cartoon. Everything resembles reality but is just funnier than crap sometimes. I spend a lot of time smiling here and even writing this gives me chuckles. Back to the story. A couple of years ago we hired a driver to take us to Xochimilco – Fernando was his name. Fernando told us you needed two things in order to drive in Mexico City – first you needed a drivers license and second you needed to be crazy. I concur. Lanes are optional and traffic lights a mere suggestion. It's amazing that I've never seen a wreck in this city but I think they just get very good at defensive (and offensive) driving. My first point that lanes are optional is realized by the taxi only staying between the lines about 50% of the time. In Ecuador I'd say they're never between the lines so this is an improvement but a part of me says they're only between the lines when trying to avoid running into someone else who also happens to be between the lines in the next lane. As soon as that danger has passed they just drive wherever. The second point about traffic lights is true. Between the airport and our hotel near the Zocolo we ran EVERY red light! It wasn't like someone in America running a red light though by whizzing through it at the last moment but rather he'd slow down, look both ways and if there wasn't any traffic he'd just hit the gas again. This is not the only place in Mexico where I've seen this. I did however, see some cars sitting at red lights so I assume that not everyone runs them. If anyone has insight as to who gets to run the reds then I'm all ears. There's another thing I need to say about me not recommending people to come here – they don't speak English! We've encountered many people in shops and on the street and we've found two people that speak English, one at our hotel and a tourist guide at the Zocolo. We did encounter a kid that knew his numbers in English but that's it. If you need to be pampered and want someone to speak English to you then Italy or the resorts may be a better choice.
Another thing that people dwell on about Mexico is they ask if it's dirty. Well, yes I suppose it is. But then I can show you some pretty nasty areas of London or Paris as well and there are parts of Los Angeles that are trash dumps. I think in any country where the average yearly wage is roughly what I make in 4 days things are going to be a bit rough. There just isn't a lot of money to repaint buildings, fix sidewalks or clean streets. I will say this though that if Mexico can ever get to a point where they're making enough money to fix the place up they are sitting on a gold mine! You heard it here first. I will probably be going more into detail in the coming week or so but I this city is packed with so many beautiful colonial Spanish buildings and ancient ruins and in combination with the awesome culture and food it's crazy that people don't come here. Since I have international readers I should quantify that by saying I don't know why more Americans don't come here. If you see a white person in Mexico City he/she is probably from Europe and I'd put money on it that they're German. But then Germans are everywhere. You could climb to the top of Mount Everest and there'd be a young German couple in their tan backpacker pants and the girls blond hair pulled back into a ponytail... Seriously.
Mexico in general is a gold mine. There are more ancient cities here than anywhere on earth including Greece, Italy and Egypt but there isn't enough money to excavate them or provide infrastructure. If they could uncover all the ruins and provide infrastructure these guys would be rolling in cash. National Geographic did an article on the Maya region and through satellite imaging they estimated there were about 250,000 covered cities in the Yukatan penninsula. This does not include the cities of the Aztecs, Zapotecs, Mixtecs, Toltecs, Teotehaucanos and the many many other civilizations that have lived here. It's overwhelming to be honest. I have an Archaeological guide to Mexico and just when I get done reading about the history of some civilization I've heard of I get to the next chapter and they start talking about another one, and another one and another one. Mexico from 400 BC to 1500 AD wasn't that much different than Europe with many many different “countries” struggling for power and cultural dominance. The largest city on earth has been in the Valley of Mexico three times by three drastically different civilizations over the course of 1500 years. Tenochtitlan would have been the worlds greatest tourist attraction had the Spanish not been blinded by the hopes of finding gold so they razed the pyramids and palaces and filled in the canals in the lake that the city was built on. For those of you who don't know Tenochtitlan was practically a floating city with water for streets not unlike Venice Italy. The Spanish like most catholic countries wanted to assimilate the locals and steal their gold. Ancient temples and local culture had no value – idiots. What people will do in the name of religion.
Anyway Mexico = Goldmine. I'm in amazement just walking around Mexico City looking up at the buildings... This could be Vienna or Madrid or Paris in a lot of areas. It needs Paris' yearly budget though and that's not going to happen.
Just as a teaser I'm going to upload a few photos to get you by. Later I'll write about our first full day here.
I actually made these about 4 days ago but forgot to post them...
Mexican Brownies? Maybe brownies aren't mexican but Chocolate was consumed by the Maya 1000 years before the Europeans landed at Veracruz. The Aztecs and most other indiginous groups also drank chocolate for festivals and religious ceremonies.
Even today you can stop in at a Chocolatria and have a cup of Hot Chocolate and some Churros. In Oaxaca there are several Chocolatrias that grind the cacao while you wait just like a coffee shop would here. You get a fresh ground cup of hot chocolate which you can drink in the shop while watching the world go by.
So with that in mind I buy a lot of chocolate from Mayordomo in Oaxaca. When I'm there I bring it back and if I'm not there I mail order it. It's expensive through the post so it makes sense to just pick it up if you're in the city. With that chocolate I make brownies hence the title of this blog post. There's something different about Oaxacan chocolate than European or American chocolate. It has a special smell and taste to it that always brings back nice memories.
To add extra depth to the ganache used for the brownies I also include a couple tablespoons of dutch processed cocoa to the 7 ozs of Mayordomo Oaxacan chocolate.
Oh and I forgot to take pictures until I only had one left so it was a bit weird shaped.
I pondered on whether I'd mention Mexico in the title of this blog post because you'd be hard pressed to find fajitas in Mexico. But in fact the Mexican people created fajitas even if they did do it in the States so the title stands. We just finished up the Moussaka and I had a couple of pounds of pork loin in the freezer than needed to be used and some red bells that were starting to wrinkle so we threw together some pork fajitas for dinner. When you're using skirt steak you don't have to do anything to the meat in order for it to taste great but skirt steak is $8/lb which is a bit too rich for my blood right now. Pork or chicken for that matter needs a little something so I whipped up some marinade that I'd created to give them flavor. A while back I'd found a commercial marinade that I liked the flavor of but it had way too many chemicals in it so I recreated it from scratch. It's not too hard to make and I'm mostly satisfied with it outside of the fact that Im using lite corn syrup which I want to cut out of my food. Later I'll spend a little more time to add a bit of heat, depth and get the corn syrup out but for now it stands. I don't eat fajitas that often so I've really not put much effort into the marinade.
The fajita marinade comprises of the following ingredients.
- light corn syrup
- cider vinager
- lime juice
- brown sugar
- worchestershire sauce
- garlic powder
Yes this means it's very sweet. I want the corn syrup gone and I want more depth so I'll be playing with the spices and worchestershire sauce.
I split this journal entry into two parts because only after I started writing did I realize how much I had to say about San Angel. San Angel may very well be my new favorite place in Mexico City. It's this very cute little "town" that the City absorbed with cobblestone streets and Spanish colonial buildings. What's neater is the park in the middle hosts an art market on Saturday that reminds me a lot of the one on Montmartre in Paris short of the mime infestation of the latter.
There were some very nice restaurants there with tables out on the sidewalk very European style with prices in the 130 peso range for really nice meals. This is roughly equal to about $10 in the states which is expensive here but the food is much better than we'd get at home.
I like San Angel a lot, I think I mentioned that. It's important to note though that if you think Mexico City looks like the pictures I've added to this blog you'll be a little disappointed when you get here. Just 3 blocks down the hill is a bus station with garbage strewn all over and open air stalls selling knockoff Rolexes. This still IS Mexico City afterall but you might think of San Angel as an oasis in a desert of chaos. I think it's definitely worth a visit especially if you want to get away. I've been to Mexico City several times and it's the first time I've wandered out this way. The first time we went to Coyoacan but we'd hired a private driver and didn't have enough time to do the San Angel to Coyoacan walk.
fLike I mentioned earlier on Saturday there's an artisanal market in the square of San Angel. For those of you who poo poo the idea of carrying a guidebook around I'll have you know that we would have missed one of the coolest parts of our trip had I not read ahead. So we wandered the stalls looking at the original Mexican art and I can say that it's all very good and original. Mexico has some great artists. We then ventured inside to the Bazar de Sabado which many more shops and is a permenent exhibition hall with prices to match in an old hacienda with a restaurant in the central courtyard (with a mile long line). As this building was built in the Spanish hacienda style there were rooms all around the courtyard and each room has been turned into a salesroom for different artists. In one room you might find pottery and in the next jewelry. It took quite some time to shuffle our way through the rooms as they were very very crowded and per the norm we ran into a few other Americans which did not fail to live up to the stereotype.
Our stomachs were starting to complain so we decided to search out food. The way we budgeted this trip was to have two cheap meals (street food) and one fancy meal which took up the majority of our daily food budget. There were so many nice restaurants that we nearly had our big meal in San Angel. All the while we've been in Mexico City we've been passing Tacos el Pastor stands and we definately can't get decent Tacos el Pastor in the states so we took a vote and the majority decided to eat Tacos el Pastor on the square and save our large meal for later. There was a place that advertised Tacos el Pastor for 9 pesos which is roughly equivalent to pocket lint. We found out that they were not 9 pesos for the plate of four in the picture but 9 pesos each which for a meal is roughly equivalent to pocket lint from both front pockets, a ball point pen and a rubber band. We ordered 20 tacos el pastor. Tacos el pastor (you have to say that really fast or nobody here will understand you, go ahead and practice) are hard to find in the States. In Mexico they have a spit of pork mixed with onions and peppers rotating in a vertical position next to a heat source not unlike Greek gyro shops do it. This spit of meat sits there rotating all day and they just shave off meat when needed onto little corn tortillas about 2 inches across which you squeeze lime juice over. For reasons unknown to me you always get double tortillas. I'm not sure why that is and my Spanish is just good enough to find the toilet so I probably won't be solving that mystery any time soon.
Piper of course had to buy a hand made indiginous doll to go with her collection so there was one lady making these gorgeous little Mexican dolls on the spot so Piper asked her Quanta Questa (phonetically, I don't write in Spanish) and she rattled off some prices which did us little good since we don't hear in Spanish either. My little notepad came to the rescue (today's travel tip, if you don't speak the language carry a notepad) and she outlined that the large dolls were $125 pesos ($10), medium $100 pesos ($8), smaller $60 pesos ($5) and smallest were $40 pesos ($3). Sometimes you feel bad about buying this stuff because it's so cheap. Those were the pre-bargain prices and we were supposed to talk her down but I just couldn't. Piper paid full price for a medium doll. Eight dollars for a very nice hand made doll with cloth body. Now that we'd taken a page from Cortes book and stolen from the natives we figured we'd head to Coyoacan - Cortes' home.
The next leg of our day was spent walking to another suburban “town” named skinny coyote or coyoacan. Coyoacan is where Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera lived as well as where Leon Trotsky spent his last days before being assassinated by one of his servants which just backs up the old saying that most "accidents" happen within 10 miles of your home, would could ask President Carranza to back me up on that one. Coyoacan however came into existence when Cortes decided not to live on the swampy rattlesnake infested island where Tenochtitlan was and built his house on the shore of the lake Texcoco. That house still stands today and is coming up on it's 500th birthday. I believe it's administrative offices now but mostly ends up being the backdrop for a bunch of tourist photos of friends and families. Mexico City is only allowed to have two Zocolos (main squares) and the one at Coyoacan is the second. I'm thinking that the link to Cortes probably helped. Coyoacan is probably the only other place besides San Angel where I'd actually live in Mexico City since it reminds me of Oaxaca so much. We watched a Quinceanera celebration in front of the church which got Natalya all excited because they had gorgeous dresses on. I do have to admit they looked very beautiful which brings me to another topic.
Whatever stereotype about Mexicans you buy into it's probably wrong. Mexicans range from short to very tall and ugly as sin to absolutely gorgeous. They can be as white as I am - no make that as white as Natalya or very dark brown. There is a very large range of people who fall under the category of Mexican and this makes Mexico a very fun place to people watch. Actually they spend as much time watching us as we spend watching them. Mexico City doesn't get a lot of American tourists so we're a bit of a spectacle. As we walk down the street people will either pay us no mind whatsoever (the nananana response) or stare and smile – there's nothing in between. Every guy of all age looks Natalya up and down which she's getting used to slowly. It's very interesting.
After taking the metro back we went to find the Pastalaria Ideal to get pastries but it was out of about everything so we went around the corner to the Churreria (24 hour Churro and Hot Chocolate shop, just imagine a donut shop that sells chocolate instaead of cofee) which had about 50 people waiting to get in so we skipped that as well. On our way back to the hotel we walked up a pedestrian only street and believe it or not ate at a Chinese restaurant. Yes, that's right we had Chinese. It was cheap and it was fast so it served nicely. When it came to pay though I was short a few pesos and they didn't take credit cards so I ran to the ATM which refused my card as did the next one. I returned to make a deal with the restaurant and we scraped up every penny we had and gave it to them which they accepted. You have to love Mexico... Especially when you don't have enough money to pay the bill. They're very laid back about everything.
Upon getting to the hotel we all passed out from exhaustion. Tomorrow is unplanned so we don't know what we'll be doing. I'd like to make it to Tula but a private driver will cost $100 for all day. This includes a stop of at Tepozollan and Teotihuacan. I haven't decided if I want to spend the money since we could take a bus for a lot less...
I made these about a week ago but since I've been having some hardware issues with my site I haven't been posting much.
I used to be one of those people that couldn't stand the smell of steamed corn mush but something happened after I started traveling to Mexico. Now when I smell Tamales I'm immediately transported to the streets of Mexico City where heavy duty trikes laden down with giant gas powered steamers hang over the front wheels with steam eaking out their lids troll the street markets looking for customers wanting to buy tamales for next to nothing. I also think of a woman on Calle de Motolinia with a charcoal fire in the bottom of a grocery cart selling fresh grilled food. There was always a line waiting to get her food. This is Mexico City and that smell of Tamales permeates the city (along with smog of course). Now when I smell steamed corn I smile. Anyway we made Tamales in my one remaining steamer. Overall they were pretty good but the corn only versions were a bit salty. The filling in the others was a mixture of shredded chicken, raisins, onion, garlic, roasted tomatoes and chiles and oregano. I can't take any credit for the recipe at all because I made it straight from Zarela Martinez' Food from the Heart cookbook. It was her grandmother's recipe and in my opinion if it was good enough for Zarela's grandmother then it's good enough for me.
A friend asked me if the recipe was authentic because of the raisins. Number one, I don't think there's
such a thing as authentic anything and yes, anyone familiar with Mole's know Mexicans use raisins in their food.
A while ago I was steaming pumpkin in my large double level steamer and later awoke to the fire alarms going off. I scorched it pretty bad but the metal wasn't warped or anything. Since I have figured out how to get it back to normal I resorted to using my smaller steamer with only one level. This means I needed to steam the tamales in two batches taking 2 hrs to finish. When I get my big steamer either fixed or replaced I'll revisit Tamales.
The first time I went to Mexico it was a bit of a shock. It was hot, sunny and for the most part dirty. I'd been all over Europe but most of Europe is like our own country without the dillution of culture. Mexico was different, it felt foreign. As much as I thought I'd had Mexican food at home I learned soon enough that I didn't know the first thing about Mexican food. We paid a taxi for a whole day to just drive us around Cozomel island, show us ruins and then drop us off at a restaurant of his choice for dinner. He let us out at a largely open air restaurant that only had Mexicans in it (rare in Cozomel). One of the things they brought us was tortilla soup and boy was I surprised. It had flavor, depth and the tortillas were crisp. I've not had decent tortilla soup since then. It usually tastes like taco seasoning with soggy unleaven bread in it. Natalya decided to fix Tortilla soup last night and it was quite good. I think with some more seasoning and perfecting the technique of keeping the tortillas crisp she'd be on to something.
And another surprise was the empanadas. We fell in love with the Chilean Empanada at Julia's Empanadas in the Adams Morgan district of Washington D.C. and have been chasing the dream ever since.
I miss Mexico.
Ah, Mole Rojo! Probably my favorite Mexican dish is Pollo en Mole but it's REALLY hard to find a restaurant that can make it. I know of three Mexican restaurants in all of Seattle (and there are a lot) that make a decent Mole. La Carte De Oaxaca in Ballard makes an excellent Mole Negro, Fridas in Mill Creek makes a decent Mole Pablano and Todo in Lynnwood makes a decent Molo Pablano. There used to be a restaurant in South Everett called El Pechugon that made a decent Mole Pablano. The problem with mole is you don't eat it all the time and it's a long process to make. Mole Negro has up to 40 ingredients! Because of my love for mole and the rarity of good mole in restaurants I've tried to make it a few times. In Mexican tiendas there are mole pastes and I've tried them all. I've even brought mole paste back from Oaxaca and it was so so. There was a new brand (Teololepan Mole Rojo) in the stores so I decided to try it. The instructions go something like this - "Disolve paste in pan, add broth and chicken before frying". Not very helpful so I disolved the paste in chicken broth and the taste was way way off. Very bitter so I started to add flavor with my many Mole Rojo recipes. And after recreating the entire paste short of the peppers and chocolate I ended up with something that wasn't offensive but I'm not sure I saved any time and I definately didn't create a mole that I'd eat if I had a choice. I think next time I'll just take the day (because it really does need a whole day) and make it from scratch. That would probably be a great time to make tamalles too as Natalya has been wanting them and you basically need to mark a day off the calender for them as well.