Thursday, December 30, 2010

Puerto Vallarta: The Good Life

Takos Panchos is a hole in the wall taco place on Basilo Badillo street that has some of the best Pastor Tacos in town.  I learned about Pastor tacos last year in Mexico City, where I was told they were created.  Basically, it's pork cooked like shawarma, which is then thinly sliced onto a soft taco shell and topped with razor thin slices of fresh pineapple.  It's heavenly and dirt cheap.  This place is packed late at night with revelers in need of something quick and delicious to soak up all the booze.  That is my friend Cory hamming it up for the camera.

And below Cory and my friend Mama (aka Linda) with the taco master.
 Fuego on Amapas street is a good place for a bite large or small as well as drinks, large or small.

It's impossible to do justice to all the street food in Puerto Vallarta; it is everywhere in many different forms. I liked this juice man who was very methodical and pressed fresh juice for everyone.  He looks like he has been at it for a while. 

This Taco stand is just next door to the Juice guy and was very popular with the locals.  It was open during the day but never seemed busy until later in the night.  Both places are just up from the beach on Badillo.  For more info on street food check out this great site.

Of course during the day the big activity is going to the beach.   Most people don't want to move once they get situated; this is not a problem as most beachfront hotels have chairs and umbrellas for rent or for you to enjoy many cocktails and snacks under while you enjoy yet another day in paradise.
At night Puerto Vallarta really comes alive, with a crazy amount of bars and clubs to go to.  As a New Yorker I wasn't so excited about going out every night since I get enough nightlife here, but it's nice to know there are options.  Here are a few shoots of the latest bar, the new La Noche.
A dog enjoying a good dig on the beach. 
Still more to come on PV, I'm not quite done yet!  Tomorrow I fly to San Francisco where I hope to be able to explore some of the exciting food scene in Oakland.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Back Home

I spent all of yesterday getting home.  The worst part of the trip was trying to get to NYC from the airport: it was a zoo with flights finally landing after days of being closed.  The taxi and buses couldn't handle the crowds.  I finally got in at about 2:30 and to bed by 4!  So I am a mess today and am making a belated birthday dinner for my friend Keith who is visiting from Berlin and my brain is fried.

Friday I am back on the road again:  San Francisco, then San Diego then Toronto.  Lots of stuff still on Puerto Vallarta which I hope to get to in the next couple of days.  In the meantime, if anyone has foodie suggestions for my upcoming travels I'd love to hear them.

Off to the market!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Classic Cheese Fondue

Even though I'm enjoying warm weather and the beach I have been following the big storm in the Northeast (worry about if I will be able to come home tomorrow, wouldn't that be terrible stranded in Puerto Vallarta?) so I thought I should post something for all of you are are drudging through the snow and putting on extra layers to deal with the cold!

Saxelby Cheese's weekly Monday email was in my inbox this morning with this wonderful recipe for Classic Cheese Fondue!

Saxelby Cheesemongers' Melty Cheese Favorites:

(Raw cows' milk. Consider Bardwell Farm, VT)
Never a nicer cheese graced our humble shop. Pawlet is the ideal cheese for just about any occasion. Buttery & creamy, with a touch of tang, it achieves that perfect, ribbony consistency with just a bit o' heat.

Spring Brook Raclette
(Raw cows' milk. Spring Brook Farm, VT)
A stellar homage to the European original. This raclette is the textural equivalent of cheese velvet. Silky-smooth, and superbly meltable. The flavor strikes a delicate balance between milky and light, and salted toasted peanuts. Try the classic, or peppercorn version, which is studded throughout with whole green and black peppercorns.

Pleasant Ridge Reserve
(Raw cows' milk. Uplands Cheese, WI)
This cheese has won Best in Show three times (count 'em, three!) in the last ten years at the American Cheese Society conference. There's a reason for that. The dense, complex flavor profile of Pleasant Ridge flits and floats between freshly mown grass, buttercrunch, and tart fruits (think pineapples and cherries... and no, we're not kidding)


Now for the practical bits... To do a proper raclette, you'll need a raclette machine. Think a double decker Foreman grill with room for potatoes, veggies and meats on the upper deck, and little flat bottomed paddles underneath to melt your slices of cheese. I bought one last year and it has become my favorite party trick. A few times a year I whip that baby out, and voila! Dinner party to beat all dinner parties...

As for fondue, if you've never made it before, don't despair! It's easy as pie. All you have to do is be willing to buff up your biceps a bit while stirring in all that cheese. Who said melted cheese couldn't also be a bit of a workout?

Classic Cheese Fondue Recipe:

1 cup of grated cheese (pick one from the list above, or mix & match!)
1 clove Garlic
2 cups Dry White Wine
1 tbs Lemon Juice
2 tbs Flour
3 tbs Kirsch
1/4 tsp White Pepper
Nutmeg and/or Paprika to taste

1. Rub the inside of the fondue pot with the garlic clove - add clove to pot or discard

2. Heat up the white wine & lemon juice - should be hot but do not boil

3. Reduce heat to low and slowly add cheese while stirring

4. Slowly add remainder of ingredients while stirring

If fondue is too loose add more cheese

If fondue is too stiff add more wine

 'Till next week, melt cheese and be merry!

Archie's Wok

Archie's Wok is a classic Puerto Vallarta restaurant that was opened in 1986 by John Houston's Private chef (Archie) and is still owned and run by his family.

Puerto Vallarta was "discovered" in large part by film director John Houston when he came down to film Tennessee William's Night of the Iguana with Richard Burton (who subsequently bought a villa here which is now an exclusive and very fancy hotel Hacienda San Angel with an equally fancy and famous restaurant)
Archie's Wok  serves a diverse selection of Asian inspired dishes, from a Cambodian Beef curry to pad Thai made with soba noodles.  It is very veggie friendly and they offer for an extra cost brown rice with your meal.  I've only eaten here twice, but have enjoyed it thoroughly both times.  The crowd is pretty diverse, like Vallarta itself.  The service is attentive if a little distracted the night we ate there.  The food is straightforward and tasty; even thought they offer very authentic SE Asian dishes none of them are too spicy.

Best of all for such an elegant and special evening as you will have when you dine here you won't break the bank (unless you order expensive wine which in PV is very expensive, usually 3 to 4 times more per bottle then we would pay in NYC).  Our dinner for two with 2 beers and a Sake for Neil was around $70 USD.  A bargain for what you get.  If you are visiting PV, put Archie's Wok at the top of your dining list.
Above is the front of the restaurant from the street.  Below is the view from our seat at the back of the restaurant overlooking the beautiful inner courtyard with a tree.  It has a very Japanese zen style and a small stage with a beautiful screen at the back which acts as a backdrop for the harpist who plays during dinner most nights.
It really was too dark and I loathe flash photo's, but here is a picture of Neil's veggie egg rolls.  The dots are hot Asian mustard and in the little glass is a very pungent and sour sweet pineapple dipping sauce.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Dinner Puerto Vallarta: Mexican BBQ

This Christmas dinner was as far away from traditional as it gets.  I bought a bunch of dried and fresh Mexican peppers and used them as a springboard to create what I call a Mexican BBQ Menu.  There is an upscale group of 4 stores that has opened this year called Los Mercados:  a produce shop, a wine store, a bakery and fancy food shop/butcher.  At the latter I found some excellent looking pork ribs.  I bought a little over 2 pounds and it cost me around $17 USD - Puerto Vallarta isn't cheap, particularly when you shop at fancy gringo stores!

Once home I set upon making a dry rub and a BBQ sauce for my lovely looking ribs.
This isn't so much a recipe as a narrative of my process.  Here goes...

The first step was to de-stem and de-seed my dried peppers and grind them up into a powder.  Then I used them in my dry rub (along with cumin, salt, brown sugar, black pepper...).

For the BBQ sauce I hunted down some Molasses which to me is the key ingredient in any BBQ sauce.  Never buy the stuff in a jar, since homemade is easy to make and so much better.  I sauteed an onion and  lots of garlic, then added some tomato paste and ground tomatoes, along with ginger, brown and white sugar, oregano, cumin,  tequila, molasses, cider vinegar and cooked it down for an hour or so, tasting and seasoning with salt and pepper as I went.  I pureed the finished product in a blender.

I rubbed the ribs with the dry spices and let them sit in the fridge for an hour then cooked them at 500 for 20 minutes then reduced the heat to 325 F and cooked them until very tender, about 90 minutes, then generously coated them with the BBQ sauce and put them back in the oven for another 10 minutes.

I used the same pepper mixture in my black and pinto bean ragout, along with a little tomato sauce, oregano, lots of cumin and 2 roasted, peeled seeded and finely chopped Poblano peppers.  I served the beans on brown rice with organic local yogurt and lots of fresh cilantro.

Miraculously the organic arugula and red leaf lettuce I had bought the previous week at the farmers market was still good so I tossed up a salad with some pomegranate seeds and a black pepper, honey and mustard vinaigrette. 

For dessert I made Molasses Ginger Cookies, giving the finish of the meal a little taste of Christmas back home.  My hosts for Christmas splurged and rented a fabulous penthouse overlooking the ocean so it was truly a once in a life time experience.  I return home on Tuesday and after seeing pictures of the snow storm today in NYC I am crossing my fingers that my flight is cancelled I have to stay here longer.

And to all my Canadian readers: Happy Boxing Day!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Feliz Navidad

No party is complete without a pinata.  Mostly for children, they are typically filled with fruit and candy. The super deluxe ones might have small toys as well.  Adult versions can be made to order, but the Christmas Pinata at a staff party at a big hotel here in Puerto Vallarta included fun things like colorful condoms, lube and, um, recreational the gestalt you get from beating it with a big stick! 

I've seen Christmas Tree shaped Pinatas, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer Pinatas and of course a Santa Claus Pinata.  It's fun to be someplace so totally different to celebrate the holidays than the evergreen and snow filled cold of the northeast in which I grew up and, until last year, had always spent the holidays.

I hope whereever you are when you read this that you have a happy healthy holiday.

It's been an exciting year here at Urbanfoodguy and I can't thank you enough for being part of it.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Stained Glass Window Treats

These were my favorite Christmas cookie to make and to eat when I was a kid.  They're a little trashy:  the main ingredient is colored minature marshmallows.  To make them more acceptable to my adult sensibilities I used 73 percent dark chocolate and toasted pecans.

There's another "stained glass window" cookie which are butter cookies with a shape cut out of the center where you put crushed hard candies that melt when you bake them creating a colorful window pane.  I like the marshmallow version better.

My camera broke yesterday and I'm still in Mexico, so when I get home I will make a batch of these and add some photos.  For now, the one above, I found here.

Here's my take on a festive childhood favorite.

Stained Glass Window Treats

On a 12" or so long piece of parchment paper add 2 cups of coconut (I think dessicated works best and I use unsweetened, but you can use sweetened if you want) in a thick horizontal row.

In the bowl of a double boiler add 8 Tablespoons of unsalted butter and 1 1/2 cups 70% or more dark chocolate roughly chopped, stirring occasionally with a spatula until completely melted.   Remove from the hot water and stir in 1 1/3 cups roughly chopped lightly toasted pecans, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon good quality rum, brandy or vanilla.

Let cool then fold in a 10 1/2 ounce package of colored mini marshmallows  mix together with a spatula.  Depending on how thick you want to make them this should make 2 or 3 logs.  Add a half or a third of the chocolate mixture to the coconut on the parchment paper and form into logs, coating the out side with coconut.  It's helpful if you dampen your hands.  Transfer each finished log to a fresh piece of parchment and roll up and twisting or folding the ends of the paper.  Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but overnight is preferable.

When ready to serve unroll and with a sharp knife slice into 1/2" or so discs.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chilaquiles and Variations

Chilaquiles are one of my favorite things to eat.  Up until this visit to Mexico I thought the recipe for them was very straightforward.  You take corn chips (I like to use all the broken pieces at the end of a bag) soak them in a couple lightly beaten eggs, fry them and cover them in salsa fresca.    Kind of like a Mexican version of Matzo Brei.  Not so.   It turns out that in Mexico they soften the corn chips in a tin lightly spiced with bay leaf and some pepper tomato sauce and serve either eggs or shredded chicken on top (or both as pictured above).  The chicken meat that I have had here with my Chilaquiles has been dark meat and it works so much better then just white meat.  Its rich, moist unctuousness is a perfect foil to the tang of the sauce.  All Chilaquiles are served with refried beans, which here are looser then the ones I make, always made with pinto beans and served with a generous crumbling of cheese.  In one version I had the cheese was almost like Parmesan; it was a great surprise compared to the often ubiquitous queso fresco which is used.

The eggs of course can be scrambled or fried.  I have been getting scrambled, but then tried sunny side up and like how the runny yolks adds richness to the chips and sauce.  I actually think that poached eggs would be best, but as of yet I haven't seen that as an option.

Lastly, when I was doing some research on the topic of Chilaquiles I discovered that they can also be made with Salsa Verde.  Tomatillos have a wonderful citric note that give the dish a whole new flavor profile and really lends itself to cheese and eggs.  If you don't have any left over chicken legs to add, a light sprinkling of crunchy bacon would be a damn fine addition as well.

Chilaquiles are the perfect leftover food, not to mention in my experience the perfect hangover food.  I love anything you can add lots of hot sauce to.

Whether you make them from leftovers or buy the ingredients specifically to make them, Chilaquiles are a great way to spice up breakfast.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Wherever You Go There is Pizza

Neil and I just got back from Espresso Pizzeria, my favorite place to go for pizza here in Puerto Vallarta (so far, I haven't tried them all, yet).

Tonight Neil made a special request and they made him a pesto pizza with fresh tomatoes on a cheese pie.  I had a anchovies on my basic pie.  To start we had a grilled Portobello mushroom salad with goat cheese; the Portobello was sliced and grilled and served on a small bed of lettuce with a button of goat cheese on the side.  It was great.  With two beers dinner cost with tip about $55 USD.

Puerto Vallarta is not cheap.  Taxis and eating out are a little bit less then you would spend in NYC. If you eat at local places, it is cheaper and if you buy from the local Mexican market and cook it is also much cheaper.  Just be aware of the produce vendors in the Zapata square as they charge you for all your groceries but don't pack them all.  I got home the other day and a half dozen items I had paid for were not in my bag.   I went back to complain but it was pointless.  At least it was a nice walk.  Sad though, because it was my favorite place to shop and I won't go back.

Oh the above pizza is a Parma pizza I had for lunch when I first got here, yum!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Old Town

I posted about these on my first day here and I called them sweet potatoes.  Then I came across them again in the light of day and realized they are not  sweet potatoes or yam or any such thing.  They have a pit in them and I am confused as to what they are? (Chris and Skip were able to discern that these stone like fruits are called Mamey Fruit - see the comments below)  Next time I see them I will muster up some bad Spanish and ask the guy selling them.
 I love these old signs for candy stores.  They also sell fruit, nature's candy.

 7 Pesos is 56 cents.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Papaya Anyone?

These grow like weeds.

I want to live somewhere where you can go out your door and pick fruit like this!

Tortilla Makers at Colonia Emiliano Zapata

On the south side of Old Town Puerto Vallarta is Colonia Emilaino Zapata marketplace.  It's located on Lazaro Cardenas at Camichin, a few blocks east of Insurgentes.  A genuine old-fashioned Mexican Market, it is one of my favorite places to go. For some reason I am fascinated by this tortilla here are a couple of videos of it and the very camera shy tortilla maker in action.
The second one is very short and from a different point of view; my memory card isn't very big so...

Puerto Vallarta's Farmer's Market

What a wonderful new addition to the Puerta Vallarta food and cultural scene the new Framers Market is (it opened in March).  Most of the vendors here are organic, the prices are great and the products are of a very high quality.  In addition to produce and artisanal foodstuffs, there are also a lot of beautiful crafts. Apparently this is its second season, but last year I wasn't here on a Saturday so I missed it.

The Farmer's Market is held every Saturday at the Paradise Community Center at 127 Pulpito Street just across the street from Coco's Kitchen (a lovely place that has been known for their breakfasts and is now serving dinner)

The Old Town Farmers market has very limited hours so go early as it is only open from 10am-1pm.

The crowd this morning was great (sometimes I think everyone in PV has a dog!) and these pictures are only a fraction of how many vendors attend.  I mostly focused on the food sellers that interested me with a few of the crafts people whose work I really liked.

As I sit and type this at my dinning table the aroma from the Pineapple I bought yesterday is filling the air and I'm thinking a Pina Margarita is in my future.  I bought sugar to make a simple syrup to which I will add a lot of fresh lime juice then a generous handful of chopped up pineapple.  Throw it all into the blender with some ice and tequila, maybe a splash of Grand Marnier and you have one fine drink, not to mention the perfect end to an evening!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sexy Drinks On the Beach

This is a new place that is part of the El Dorado hotel.  It looks great and has these wonderful fire pits on the beach that you can sit around.  The menu is extensive, kind of like you would find at a diner in NYC.  It seems to me they have stretched themselves too thin and would be better to narrow their focus a bit.  Our food was OK, but for the price in such an idyllic location it should be much better.  They are new and I am sure still working out all the kinks.  Well worth checking out if only for a sunset drink on the beach.

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