My birthday cakes are usually multi-recipe, all day baking extravaganzas. It’s my birthday present to myself. I get exactly what I want and I get to spend time alone, baking in my kitchen, my happy placeThis year’s cake was inspired by a trip to Charleston South Carolina we took with our friends The Grizzlies. One of the highlights of our weekend was a cooking class with Chef Vinson Petrillo at The Zero George Hotel, a charming 16 room boutique hotel. Chef Vinson is a recent transplant to the Charleston area. Originally from New Jersey, he honed his craft in New York. When I asked him what brought him to Charleston, he replied simply, “My wife wanted kids.” They are now the proud and very busy parents of two little ones, aged 1 and 2. As I observed Chef Vincent during our 3-hour class it became obvious to me that he must be an excellent dad. He handled all our questions and comments with great patience and equanimity!
For the first course, he cooked butternut squash by the sous vide technique. He followed that up by sauteeing it in brown butter and finally topped it with torched marshmallow. Sort of a glorified sweet potato casserole but so much better.
For the main course, he prepared sauteed snapper. Watching him cook and plate the food was just a joy. His passion for and knowledge of the ingredients were obvious.
The dessert course was a Chocolate Cremeux, essentially a chocolate pudding, topped with big shards of honeycomb. My iPhone photo does not do it justice.If you’ve ever had a Crunchie chocolate bar or sponge toffee, you know what Honeycomb is. Essentially, you make caramel and add baking soda at the end to produce a bubbly toffee confection. This honeycomb topping was the inspiration for my birthday cake.Before he began cooking, Chef Vinson emphasized the importance of “mise en place”. Read through the recipe, measure and chop all your ingredients and set out all pans and tools you need before you start cooking. Nowhere is this more important than in the preparation of honeycomb.
You will need a candy thermometer and a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat sheet. The process goes quickly, so don’t walk away from the stove. Chef Patrillo left his honeycomb unadorned, but I dipped the corners of mine in bittersweet chocolate and sprinkled them with a bit of flaky sea salt because that’s the way we roll around here!
For the cake, I turned to Brian Hart Hoffman’s book “Bake From Scratch.” I thought his classic golden cake with buttermilk would be a perfect base for honeycomb.I filled and covered the cake with a salted caramel buttercream.With a cup of tea or a glass of milk, this indulgent cake is the perfect way to celebrate a birthday.
A few years ago, on a trip to Umbria, I started playing a little travel game in my mind. Each day I kept track of all the things I ate. At the end of the night, I decided which bite reigned supreme. I had the opportunity to play last month when I visited Israel to attend my nephew’s induction ceremony into the Israeli army.This was my 13th trip to Israel. Each time I visit, I marvel at how much there is to do and see in this tiny country. If you have never been, or it’s been a while since you last visited, you will be amazed by how modern and sophisticated the culinary scene has become. It’s not all hummus and falafel. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.To understand how the new Israeli cuisine evolved, you need to take a look in the rear-view mirror to examine the roots of the people of this nation. One of the most multi-ethnic countries in the world, Chef Rozanne Gold said that “I can’t think of another group of people with a spoon in so many pots.” Immigrants from Eastern Europe, Germany, France, England, Yemen, Ethiopia, and Syria, to name a few, have all influenced Israeli cuisine. Add to that the proclivity of Israeli youth to travel the world once their mandatory military service is over, bringing back with them ingredient and techniques of a multitude of cuisines, and the result is a new Israeli cuisine that is boldly flavourful, unabashedly joyous and wildly innovative.
The best bite of our third day was at OCD, in Tel Aviv. This restaurant is the brainchild of Chef Raz Rahav. At only 25 years old, he is creating some of the most exciting food in Tel Aviv in a stunning setting.I don’t think that industrial-barn falls under any design style I have ever heard of but it describes the interior perfectly.As the name suggests, Chef Rahav is obsessed with precision and complex artistic plating. But flavour does not take a back seat.There are 2 seatings every night, each accommodating 18 guests around a u-shaped bar with an open kitchen in the center. Watching the chefs plate each course, you get the sense that this is more theatre than restaurant. There is no written menu. As each course is set before you, the chef gives a verbal explanation, either in English or Hebrew.
The day before our dinner, the restaurant emailed us to find out if we had any dietary restrictions. They will tailor the meal for you if there are certain things you do not eat, but, they ask you to come with an open mind. On their website they promise that there are no insects on the menu!
Often restaurants offering tasting menus can be a little formal and stuffy. Not OCD! You know that any meal that begins with a donut is going to be a fun night. Just a heads up here, we shot with my daughter’s iPhone and the lighting was not the greatest for food photography. Luckily Elliott S over at trip advisor had many of the same courses and got way better shots than we did. I have tagged his photos appropriately. Thanks Elliott! I also used some of Chef Rahav’s photos from his instagram account @razi_barvazi
We were greeted with a Sufganiya (hebrew for donut). A tiny little bite, about the size of a Timbit, filled with smoked labneh, sherry vinegar, and a rosemary and olive tapenade. A little flavour bomb. Watching them plate the dishes was almost as much fun as eating the delicious results.The first course was a Red Snapper Tartare. It was served with a Whipped Tomato Bavarois, Seaweed and a Poppy Seed Parker House Roll. What surprised us was that the tomato component was white—because it was made only from the water in which the tomato was simmered. The tartare was fresh and delicate, but it was the Parker House Roll that stole my heart. Chef Rahav respects textural contrasts. The crunch of the wafer thin fried seaweed garnish and those poppy seeds made me very happy.The second course was a Trout Sashimi with Smoked Cucumbers, Melon, Sorrel Flowers and Nigella Seeds Crackers.The tartare was followed up with an amuse bouche of Fried Mochi with Shallot Cream, Pickled Shallots and Cured Sardines. Our server suggested we eat it in one bite. We obliged and were rewarded with a flavour explosion in the mouth.Third course was Beef Tartare with Smoked Ratte Potato and Red Sorrel.
Our fourth course was Steamed European Seabass with Oats, Cashew and Pumpkin-Curry Crab Bisque. That crispy thing you see on top is an oat tuile! Chef Rahav is a master at contrasting textures. The fifth course was a love letter to the humble parsnip. The parsnips were roasted to coax out their natural sweetness. Salted pecans provided the crunch and a bone marrow maple jus added the perfect sweet-savory balance. Course number six was Duck Breast with Turnips, Brandy and Bone Marrow Crumble.The careful attention to detail extended even to the bathrooms where the hand towels are lined up like little soldiers.When dinner begins with a donut and ends with three desserts, it’s a good night in my world.
Course seven was the best bite of the day! Aerated Honey Parfait, (dusted with carrot powder) Candied Walnuts, Goat Cheese and Raisins. The texture of the aerated parfait was like chiffon. It just dissolved in my mouth. It reminded us of carrot cake, but a very sophisticated one!The honey parfait was followed up with the most unusual palate cleanser I have ever eaten. It was a G&T Granita with Sour Cream, Pears, Parsnips and Pine Nuts. Not being a gin lover, it was the only dish I did not finish.The second dessert was called, Buckwheat Textures, which featured pickled cherries and salted caramel. Enough said!Our final course of the night was a Sweet Pea Ice Cream Bar. A perfect end to a very special evening.
A few days ago I posted about the first part of our trip to Newfoundland. The saga continues. We checked out of our St. John’s hotel at the ungodly hour of 5:00 am. When Siobhan, the sweet front desk clerk, heard we were headed to Fogo Island, she squealed. That’s home for her. Her parents are still living there, in the village of Tilting. We jokingly said we’d say hi for her.
We hopped onto the Trans Canada Highway (TCH) at Mile Zero. The world’s longest national highway, the TCH stretches across Canada from St. John’s Newfoundland on the East Coast, to Victoria B.C. on the West Coast, a whopping 7,821 km (4,860 miles) long. Mrs. Grizzly and I napped in the back seat while Mr. Grizzly expertly navigated my husband through a dense early morning fog. We were startled awake by this sound
followed quickly by this
as Mr Grizzly ripped into the bag of All-Dressed Potato Chips at 7:45 am. It was going to be a fun ride.
We arrived in Farewell Newfoundland about 11:00 am and patiently waited to take the ferry across to Fogo Island. As we were buying our tickets, they asked if anyone in our group qualified for the senior’s discount – age 60 here. My husband, who reached this magic age the day before, was thrilled to receive his first senior benefit!
I had done a little reading before coming to Fogo Island, but nothing really prepared me for my experience here. Although I had seen a few photos online, driving up the winding gravel lane, rounding the corner and finally seeing The Fogo Island Inn come into view was surreal.This contemporary building, all angles and lines, was such a stark contrast to the raw rocky coastal setting. One end of the building is balanced on what on what looks like stilts, rising almost three storeys up into the air, supporting the inn’s dining room. I later learned that these stilts were modelled after pilotis, the wooden stilts that support the traditional stages set up by fishermen to lay out the salted and drying cod.
Fogo Island Inn is the brainchild of Zita Cobb. Ms. Cobb, one of seven children, was born and raised on Fogo in a home with no electricity or running water. Those amenities didn’t arrive on the island until 1972. She left Fogo at age 16 to study business at Carleton University in Ottawa. Within 20 years, she made a name and quite a fortune for herself in the high-tech industry (fibre optics at JDS Uniphase). In 2001 she exercised her stock options and cashed out with close to $70 million dollars. She took off to sail around the world, but the pull of Fogo Island was very strong and brought her back there in 2005.
Cod fishing has been critical to the economy of Newfoundland for centuries. However, due to greed and overfishing, stocks of cod became depleted and in 1993 the Federal Government declared a moratorium on cod fishing. This caused a collapse of the fishing industry in the province and Fogo Island was especially hit hard.
Zita returned with the goal of giving back to her declining community. Initially she set up scholarships for the youth of Fogo Island, but during a town hall meeting one resident approached her and said that while she appreciated everything Zita was trying to do, scholarships would just encourage people leave rather than building a better place for them to stay. As Oprah would say, Zita had an “aha” moment.
Rethinking her strategy, together with her brother Anthony, Zita established the Shorefast Foundation with the mandate of revitalizing the island by preserving local culture and making it a geotourism destination. Zita calls this “entrepreneurial philanthropy”.
The foundation’s main initiative was the building of Fogo Island Inn, which opened for business in 2013. Inn employees receive 15% of gross revenues in addition to their salary. Any profits from the Inn are reinvested by the Foundation, via micro-finance loans to local small businesses.
Fogo Island Inn is truly a love letter to the island. The Foundation hired award winning Norway architect Todd Saunders to design and oversee the building of the inn. Originally from Gander Newfoundland, Todd had an innate understanding of Zita’s vision and worked tirelessly to bring it to fruition.Local love continues on the inside as well. Island carpenters and artisans used native spruce, birch and fir trees to craft all the furnishings for the inn. The beautiful quilts on all the beds were handcrafted by the women on the island. Even the light fixtures in the dining room, designed to suggest white fishing nets, were crafted by local artists.While there’s no denying the beauty of Fogo Island and the Inn, for me it was the people that made the place extraordinary. Fogo Island Inn has created a “community host” program with the intention of getting guests to spend some one-on-one time with locals. On our first afternoon, we were introduced to Fergus, who took us hiking. Formerly employed by the Canadian Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans, hearing his perspective on the cod industry was enlightening. We were schooled on the local topography (mostly granite), native livestock, and learned a little about the history of the the local colourful “saltbox” houses. The trail we hiked ended in the village of Tilting. Fergus led us to “Da Shed” for a drink. Strangely, for a population that has such strong Irish roots, there are no pubs in Tilting. The local custom is to invite friends and neighbours (and clearly complete strangers as well), into your shed (which houses mostly fishing gear and tools) for a drink and chat. Because of a lack of liquor licence you don’t buy your drink, but rather, “make a contribution.”
We visited Phil and Maureen Foley’s shed. Reminiscent of my first student apartment, the shed was brimming with overstuffed couches and chairs that had seen better days. The walls were plastered with posters. We started chatting with Phil and discovered that he is the dad of the hotel clerk we met that morning in St. John’s! Small world. We were introduced to Phil’s brother and sister-in-law (Gerry and Darlene) as well as several other locals. After about 15 minutes of small talk Phil asked us if we had a song to share. WHAT??? Apparently shed culture involves singsongs as well. Gerry whipped out his guitar and started in on a beautiful haunting Irish melody. Phil, and then his wife Maureen also entertained us with some traditional Celtic tunes.
My initial instinct was to whip out my camera and record the performances. But an inner voice told me to sit still, be present in the moment and savour it. Somehow we have started to believe that every moment of our lives needs to be documented, and in doing so, we miss the being part of the moment.
I will admit to coming home and Googling Maureen, to see if anyone else had recorded her, so I could share it with you guys, and sure enough, there she was. Click here to check her out.
Chef Murray MacDonald is at the helm in the Fogo Island kitchen. A fellow native Newfoundlander, he left the island at age 18 to attend culinary school in P.E.I. He then honed his skills, travelling and cooking in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, New Zealand, China, and Mexico. Just like Zita, he travelled around the world, only to find his way back home. And, just like Zita, he believes in honouring and preserving the traditions of the past.
At heart Chef Murray is a locavore with a strong survivalist spirit. “We are doing what our ancestors did a hundred years ago, using our ingenuity to forage, gather and cook. Back then they worked with what they had to survive…Our menu is focused on wild things from the North Atlantic and local seasonal produce.” He talks about the importance of having one foot in the past while looking to the future, in order to stay relevant. His kitchen motto is “Find new ways with old things.”
Foraging for ingredients is one of his favourite pastimes. While we were there we had a chance to taste pasta created with sea urchin, found on the rocks by the shore, just beyond the kitchen door. And, as a side note, can I just say how happy it made me to discover that his guilty pleasure food is bologna!He gathers springy caribou moss by the shore and candies it to serve with yogurt and berries!Everything in the kitchen is made from scratch and the inn’s very talented pastry chef, Kara Lackie, has an incredibly light touch with biscuits and scones. They almost floated off the plate.Fogo Island also happens to be one big berry patch. We discovered this as we were hiking and I kept stepping all over these red berries and squishing them. I later learned that they are called “partrige berries” and the island is literally covered in them. They found their way into scones as well as my morning fruit bowl.It’s possible that some cod flavoured kook-aid was slipped into my morning latte, because the next thing I knew, I was agreeing to go on a Cod Fishing expedition. I typically avoid all forms of watercraft, due to a proclivity toward motion sickness.
The unflappable housekeeping supervisor, Rosemarie, outfitted us in bright orange rain slickers, mittens and hats. As we were leaving, she slipped a bottle of Non-Drowsy Gravol into my pocket. Nine of us set out on the M/V Ketanja with Captain Emberley for a three hour tour. We’re all smiles as we board the boat. Once we moved out into deeper waters Captain Emberley cut the motor and gave us all a chance to try our hand at cod jigging. Jigging basically involves the use of lures attached to a line which is “jigged” or moved up and down in a series of short movements. The jigging motion attracts the fish, which are hooked as they move close to the lure. The line is then hauled onboard and the fish removed. I passed on my turn to try my hand at jigging. Non drowsy Gravol did not work too well for me Luckily everyone caught their fish quite quickly and we were soon moving again towards our next destination, Little Fogo Island. Once a vibrant fishing village, the only full-time residents on this tiny archipelago are puffins and razorbills. The steep cliffs on the island meant that the fish stages (platforms for drying salted cod) had to be be built on posts. You can still see several of them dotted around the shore of the island.Little Fogo Island is home to summer cottages now. We had a chance to visit Captain Emberley’s grandfather’s cottage, and check on the progress of the new cottage he is building for his family. There is a charming church on the island, and once each summer a priest comes out to hold mass to honour all of Fogo island’s departed residents. We arrived back at Fogo Island Inn, a little nauseous, but happy to have checked cod fishing off my life’s “To Do” list.
On our last night at the Inn, we began chatting with our young waitress. When we asked her what changes she has noticed since the opening of the Inn, her answer surprised us. She said that of course the Island has begun to prosper financially, but what she noticed even more was a change within her.
No different than most kids living in a small town, she said she wanted nothing more than to leave the Island when she became an adult. She headed off to Halifax when she turned 18 but became quite homesick. She moved a little closer, to St. John’s and then when the Inn opened in 2013 she came home. All of the sudden she began to see Fogo Island through the eyes of all the guests coming to visit. They gushed about the raw beauty and unspoiled terrain. She had taken it for granted all her life, and seeing it through a different lens made her really appreciate what she had all along. I guess there’s no place like home after all!
I am very blessed to have just returned from an amazing trip to Africa with a group of 18 friends. (Several of the photos in this post were taken by my very talented friends) We spent a few days in Capetown and then visited the wine region of Franschhoek. Then it was time for Safari! We visited 2 different game reserves. The first was in Botswana, in the Okavango Delta region. The second was in the Sabi Sands region of South Africa. Safari life has a rhythm all its own, unlike any other type of holiday.
Many African animals are most active during the crepuscular hours (from the Latin meaning Twilight, it refers to dusk and dawn). What this means is that your day begins with a 5:00 am wakeup call! We quickly jumped into our clothes and downed a cup of coffee before setting off on our first game drive of the day.
Our Land Rover was captained by Ranger Ross and his able sidekick, Tracker Johnson. The tracker sits high up in the jeep and is constantly scanning the landscape looking for animals. He also scans the ground, looking for footprints and other clues in the sand. It blew my mind that he could accurately identify the species as well as determine exactly how long ago the animal was there by identifying the freshness of the animal droppings. The animal’s footprint also tells you which direction he was headed in.The goal of most neophyte Safari goers is to check the “Big 5” (elephant, lion, rhino, cape buffalo and leopard) off their must-see list. The term “Big 5” originally referred to the difficulty in hunting and bagging these large animals, mostly due to their ferocity when cornered and shot at. More recently it has become a marketing term used by safari tour operators.
The rhythm of the Land Rover, bouncing up and down on the uneven terrain is a bit hypnotic and I must admit, during the early morning hours, I nodded off a few times. But I was jolted awake on our second morning when we almost ran over a herd of elephants crossing the road! There were over 40 elephants, all lined up, crossing the road. They stopped in the middle of the road and started putting on a show for us. They were really quite playful and it almost seemed as if they were performing for us.After about 20 minutes the alpha female shook her ears and trumpeted quite loudly, and the whole herd gently ambled off.
Elephants form deep family bonds and live in tight matriarchal family groups. When a calf is born it is raised and protected by the whole matriarchal herd. Each herd is made up of mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts. They are guided by the oldest and largest female of the herd. The babies are mothered by all the females of the herd.
Some masterful tracking by Johnson revealed two female lions, up on a ledge. Ross explained that lions are very social animals and travel in a group known as a pride. These lionesses were part of a pride of 17 lions, known around here as the “Mhangene” tribe. We soon spotted one of the male members of this tribe. And not too far away, we discovered the rest of the pride, lazing around. After we left the lions, we came upon a “crash” of white rhinos, just leaving the watering hole. Ross explained to us the sad plight of rhinos in South Africa. Rhinos are being poached for their horns. The demand for rhino horn stems from the age-old myth that they can be used to cure cancer. One horn goes for over $25,000 on the black market. We checked # 4 , The Cape Buffalo, off our list just before 9:00 am. Johnson spotted a large herd of them off in the distance and our Land Rover became the Safari Ferrari as we flew up to catch up with them. They kind of reminded me of my Marlo Thomas Barbie doll I had when I was a little girl!The final member of the Big 5, the leopard, is one of the most elusive animals to spot. One of the other Rangers from our group radioed Ross to let him know where the leopard had just been spotted. (bad pun, I know!!). We quickly drove to the location just in time to see the leopard. She was just chilling in the lower branch of the Ebony tree, her happy place. She climbed down, proceeded to walk towards our jeep and then crawled under the vehicle and came out the other side. We all stopped breathing for a minute! Then she just ambled off, with a quick glance back at us, as if to say, “You guys coming, or what?” Ross explained that this female (her name was “Hlaba’ Nkunzi) had recently given birth and she was probably on her way to check on her cubs. Once female leopards give birth, they must protect their babies by hiding them away to provide safe shelter from predators for the first several months of their young lives. This female had actually hidden her cubs underneath the Lodge’s General Manager’s house.
Later that day, mom was spotted wandering through our camp, on her way to visit her babies. Two of my friends got pictures of her outside their rooms. It was only later in the day that we realized what an incredible morning drive we had just experienced. We thought that spotting all those animals in one short drive was the norm. Our Ranger explained that many Safari goers never get to see the Rhino or the Leopard so we were extremely fortunate.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Adventure when I share with you one of our favourite Safari snacks!
This week, while on a family vacation in Mexico, we took a food walking tour in Puerto Vallarta. We had signed up for “A Three Hour Tour.” Luckily this tour was on land and not on the high seas! We met our guide, Ricardo, at the entrance to the restaurant Mole Rosa. He promised us an adventure and lots of little tastes of the local food of the region. A little humour and a few short history lessons would be thrown in for extra flavour. Here are my favourite bites of the day.
Our first stop on the tour was Taco Robles, a birria taco stand. Birria is Spanish for slow braised meat. Large pieces of meat, originally made with iguana, but now, made with goat or beef, are smeared with a spicy adobo rub and steam-baked overnight. At Taco Robles, you have a choice of either goat or beef. Lined up three deep, this is arguably the most popular taco stand in Puerto Vallarta. Their tacos are a well known hangover remedy!Ricardo had us pegged as less than adventurous eaters and ordered the beef ones for us. I was mildly insulted, but kept it to myself! The beef tacos were packed full of meltingly tender beef, topped with onions and cilantro. The beef was muy flavourful, redolent of of chiles, bay and cinnamon. Robles serves their taco “dorado” style, basically meaning fried. They use two corn tortillas for each taco. The inner one is soft and pliable, to hold in all the juices, and the outer one is crispy from being fried in the birria fat. Ricardo gave us a crash course in choosing the best taco stands. Obviously, the biggest problem associated with taco stands is hygiene, since they do not have running water. Here are his top 3 tips:
1. Make sure that that the person who handles the money and dirty dishes is NOT the same person who handles the food.
2. Check to see if the paper or plastic plates are reused or are covered with a fresh plastic bag for each new customer.
3. Generally the stands with the biggest lineups are usually a safe bet!
I was anticipating our second stop, Cesar’s Coconut Stand, with great excitement. In business since 1984, Cesar lops the top of the coconut off with a razor sharp machete. A veritable Mexican Zorro! The clear liquid was then poured into cups for us to sample. Full of magnesium, potassium and electrolytes, the coconut water tasted so pure and fresh, a far cry from the stuff we buy in a can back home.What he did next really surprised me. He scooped out the flesh of the coconut, cut it into strips and then stuffed the coconut into a plastic bag. He added a squirt of fresh lime juice, some brown sugar, a pinch of cayenne and tiny dash of salt. Then he shook the bag to distribute the seasoning evenly all over the coconut. The Mexican version of Shake ‘n Bake! We all sampled it and most of us discretely deposited the remains in the garbage can when Cesar wasn’t looking. I guess it must be an acquired taste. I prefer my coconut baked into a macaroon.Our next stop was at Tacos el Cuñado. According to Ricardo, they are the top carne asada taco stand in town. “Carne asada” is literally translated as grilled meat. It refers to thin marinated beef, usually skirt steak, that has been grilled. Ricardo explained to us that while cuñado means brother-in-law, the reference is usually an insult. In guy code it is interpreted as a brother-in-law that is mostly hated by the husband and all his brothers for being an idiot. The exchange might go something like this:
Brother 1: “Oh man, my wife is making me take el cuñado with us to the hockey game”
Brother 2: “Dude, that sucks big time. That guy is such a dick, I can’t stand him.”
This place has been in business since 1968. It is currently run by the original owner’s son, Jorge, and his brothers. I do not believe there are any brother-in-laws working there with them!! In addition to the skirt steak tacos, they also do pork tacos. Both are served on soft corn tortillas. Lined up on the counter are an assortment of salsas or topping your taco. They are arranged in order of heat, from “salsa for wusses” all the way up to “a fiery habanero” that would put hair on your chest. I tried the Vallarta style guacamole which was blended with a mildly spicy tomatillo salsa.
To put out the fire in our throats and bellies, Ricardo took us to for a glass of “tuba water.” Created by a sweet little old man by the name of Conception, tuba water is made from the sap of the coconut palm, lightly fermented and mixed with palm sugar, walnuts and diced apples. He serves it chilled and it was smooth and very refreshing. The only tree I have ever had the sap from is a maple tree, but palm sap is quite yummy too! I bet it would be great on macadamia coconut pancakes Then we treked off to the charming family owned restaurant Mole Rosa.Specializing in various moles, Chef Gunther treated to a sampling of chicken enchiladas covered in three varieties. This is one of the most beautiful plates of food I have ever been presented with. The “mole rojo” sauce on the left is made from a Guajillo and Ancho chiles, garlic and it is finished with a tiny bit of mexican chocolate. The “mole verde” in the center was my favourite bite of the day! Made from green tomatillos, ground coriander seed, Serrano and jalapeno peppers, and roasted pumpkin seeds, this was light and really fresh tasting. This mole is not simmered for hours with tons of spices. It’s characteristic fresh taste is derived from the addition of herbs at last minute of preparation. The “mole rosa” on the right is made with Serrano and jalapeno peppers, pine nuts, white chocolate, aniseed and roasted beets which create the most gorgeous shade of pink. It was quite earthy tasting with a hint of sweetness.
At Gaby’s Restaurant we all trooped upstairs for a bowl of Tortilla soup. Garnished with fried tortilla strips, avocado and cotija cheese (a hard crumbly Mexican cow’s milk cheese), we all licked our bowls clean.We finished the meal off with a shot of tequilla. Apparently I have been shooting tequilla incorrectly all my life! The lick of salt, shot of tequilla followed by the wedge of lime is for gringos! Ricardo taught us the proper Mexican protocol. You begin with a shot of lime juice to cleanse the palate. Then you follow that with a shot of tequilla. The chaser is a shot of Sangrita. Sangrita, (literally “little blood” in Spanish) is a mixture of tomato juice, orange juice, lime juice, worcestershire sauce, tabasco sauce and salt and pepper. Sangrita was my daughter’s favourite taste of the day!
Our final stop on the tour was to Orgullo Azteca Candy Store, a veritable Mexican Willy Wonka Factory! The shop was started by two partners who wanted to teach future generations all about the joys of traditional Mexican candies. They started small, with a tiny cart, then moved into a store across the street and now have four stores in Puerto Vallarta. We got to sample many local treats but my favourite were the candied pecans. Vallarta Tours was the perfect way to get to know the people and taste the local flavours of Puerto Vallarta. If you are visiting the region and have a spare afternoon, Ricardo would love to show you his town.