Thursday, June 20, 2013

Chef Ana Makes Arroz a La Tumbada

Arroz a la Tumbada

This is one of my favorite dishes from the State of Veracruz that originated in the port of Alvarado.  This is a fisherman's dish that as legend has it was prepared by a cook who just "tossed or threw together" the rice with the catch of the day, hence the name in Spanish "a la tumbada."  Many will take a quick look and think that this is similar to a paella, but it is not.  This dish is great and has some similarity to a paella but this is much more like a soup.  

Important -- this is my version! What I always tell my guests is that Mexican cuisine is a living cuisine - it moves over time - which is what makes it so great.  Every house has its own mole, their own secret recipe, their own way to make that special dish handed down over the generations. 

For those of you who want to pull down a PDF version to print, you can find it here.

Serves 6 to 8

2 cups of long grain rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
10 cups of hot fish broth or water
½ cup white onion chopped
3 garlic cloves minced
2 cups tomatoes chopped
16 u/8 shrimp peeled and de-veined with tail on
½ cup cooked octopus or squid rings
4 blue crab cleaned and cut in half
1 cup mussels or small clams (whatever you like best or can find freshest) 
½ cup peas
½ cup carrot, peeled and cut pea-size
¼ cup chopped cilantro
3 or 4 Serrano Chiles chopped
4 limes cut in wedges
Sea salt to taste (about 2 tablespoons)

We will need a large sauté or paella pan about 25 inches in diameter and 4 - 5 inches deep.  You will need a lid to cover the pan. 

Place the pan on medium heat and add the olive oil.  Place the rice and fry for 2 to 3 minutes until the grains are translucid on the outside and white on the inside.  Don’t mix the rice.  Gently fold the rice so it won’t break and turn mushy after cooking. 

Add chopped onion and cook for another minute, then add minced garlic cook for another 30 seconds.  Add chopped tomatoes and cook for another minute.  Salt freely the rice tomato, onion and garlic mixture. 

Add 4 cups of the hot fish broth or water.  Allow to come to a boil.  Taste the broth and see if it needs more salt.  It should taste a little salty since you will be adding seafood and vegetables.  After you are satisfied that it is salted correctly, put on low heat and cover for 10 minutes.

Add another 2 cups of hot fish broth.  Nestle the blue crab into the rice and cover for 5 minutes.   The broth should always be ¼ inch above the level of the rice.  Add up to two cups of broth to do so.  It is not necessary for the broth to cover the sea food.  Taste the broth.  It should be a little salty.  Also taste the rice as it should be almost cooked. 

Add the rest of the seafood, carrots, and peas.  Cover the pan for 5 minutes after the broth comes to a boil again.  You may need to add more broth do so.  Again, making sure the broth is ¼ inch above the rice.   Important: This is a soupy style of dish.  It should have liquid as you serve the dish in a bowl.  This is not like paella which is much drier. 

When the rice is cooked but still al dente, serve in a bowl and sprinkle with cilantro and Serrano chile.  Give everyone a wedge of lime to squeeze over the dish.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Chef Ana's Recipe for Sopa de Lima from Cozumel Weeks 2013

Day one #chefanaincozumel sopa de lima - lima soup with bell peppers, chicken and tortilla strips #lavillabonita

On occasion we will leave the comfortable confines at La Villa Bonita and cook in different environments or different parts of Mexico to add to my repertior and give guests a new and different experience. This year we had cooking sessions on the island of Cozumel. While big tourism has changed the cuisine offered in hotels, there is a local cuisine that is still delicious and good. It needs to be elevated and learned. I was amazed at the amount of Italian cuisine restaurants in both Cozumel and Playa del Carmen. Such food is great but there is a wonderful local cuisine that is not being appreciated. When we travel, we always try to elevate the local cuisine so that it is visible and accessible. 

 When we come back to Tepoztlán we integrate these elements into our repertoire for our culinary packages. We had a great time with our guests in Cozumel, getting to know or fish providers and the wonderful variety of seafood available in the region and discovering these great local dishes. This particular dish, sopa de lima, is very popular in the southeast section of Mexico. It calls for Limas which are a specific type of lime. We have them in Tepoztlán in our back yard and they are a different type of lime. If you do not have them substitute Key Limes and they will work fine but the Lima has a distinct flavor.

Sopa de lima (Lima Soup) 6 servings
1 chicken breast with skin and bone 10 oz. chicken feet or wings or backs
2 garlic cloves, pealed
 ½ medium white onion
 1 clove
 1 cilantro sprig
 1 epazote sprig (if possible)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 quarts or 12 cups of water
 1 tablespoon salt
 1 teaspoon olive oil
 ½ cup red onion, finely chopped
 ½ cup green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 cups tomato, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
6 Limas or Key Limes or 3 Persian limes, thinly sliced
4 corn tortillas cut into strips and dried for 2 to 3 hours or overnight
 1 cup of canola oil
1 avocado (optional)

My preferred method of making broth is with a pressure cooker but if you don’t have one you may use a regular stock pot. Place chicken into the pressure cooker or the stock pot and add garlic cloves, the clove inserted into the onion (so they are not floating around in the pot), cilantro, epazote, dried oregano, water and salt. Place pot over a high heat and allow for broth to come to a simmer. Reduce the heat. Take off the foam that will form with a spoon and repeat this procedure until the broth doesn’t produce any more foam. If you are using the pressure cooker place the top of the pressure cooker and cook for another 45 minutes on medium high. If you are using a regular stock pot, cook for 1hr and 30 minutes on medium high. When chicken broth is ready take the chicken breast out. Allow it to cool enough to shred.

In your soup pot place the olive oil and red onion and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes or until transparent. Then add the green pepper and tomatoes and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth with slices of lime. Save a few fresh slices for serving. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 to 10 minutes and take the lime slices out.

Corn strips
 In a sauté pan add the canola oil on high heat. When it is hot add the corn strips and then fry until golden. Take out and place on paper towels to drain.

In a soup bowl place the shredded chicken, tortilla strips and a slice of avocado and a fresh slice of lime. Ladle some of the chicken broth and enjoy. If you would like to print out this recipes click here for the PDF version.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

What makes Tepoztlán so different?

Money Can’t Buy You Love.  In Tepoztlan, money doesn’t get you very much as far as respect is concerned.  Your position in the community, your standing with your neighbors and your barrio is everything.  Do you contribute to the local festivals? Do you lend a hand to a neighbor? Are you involved? I can’t tell you how many examples of people who have come to Tepoztlán thinking that money will get results.  That isn’t the case.  It is what you do that counts, not what you have.  

Buy Local.  There are very few non-local businesses here.  Apart from two banks, there are no franchises, department stores or big supermarkets.  As well, there are no big hotels, no golf courses (will get to that in a minute), and no big box stores.  People wouldn’t support them and the town wouldn't allow it.  That makes things a little expensive here, but people are willing to pay the price to support local businesses.  Moreover, the daily market and the Sunday/Wednesday farmers market is a big attraction and a local staple in the economy.  People have engaged in buying local here as a way of life long before it was considered fashionable.

Someone to Watch Over Me.  About 20 years ago or so, there was a planned condominium golf course community to be constructed close to Tepoztlán in the National Forrest Preserve.   The town was vehemently against it.  It was believed that there would be a tax on the water table, chemical runoff, lots of outsiders, and tons of maid and gardener jobs.  The town basically said, "we like our life as it is" and began manning a blockade to earth-moving equipment for a couple of years.  The mayor was brushed aside.  The barrios took over the town to provide essential services such as security.  This caused citizens to take up the duty of monitoring their neighborhoods and keeping an eye out, making sure that things were safe.  The golf course development project came and went.  This community activism saved the town and put in place a sense of responsibility for your own neighborhood/barrio.

Contentment. This is important.  Contentment is everything in life, right? This is still primarily a subsistence farming community.  People produce for their own consumption on a plot of land outside of the valley and sell or barter the rest in the local market or among friends and relatives.  Many people have a local “tourism-related” business that they operate on the weekends when Tepoztlán receives its normal flow of guests.  If you have a roof over your head, enough food to eat, a nice and safe community to raise your kids, and a beautiful backdrop to your city, you can’t really ask for much more.  People are content here.

Sense of Community.  It grows on you.  Recycling has been in effect for decades and is almost obligatory with the snide look the non-recyclable garbage guys gives you when you have too much trash.  Daily people sweep their stoop in front of their house where through the hard work of members of the barrio streets are constructed and maintained.  Tepoztecos are involved in various projects to support the community but also just lending a hand to a neighbor when for example he is adding a second story to his house.  After being here for a while you want to contribute as others do.  It is infectious.  Robb was inspired to contribute and started the first little league baseball team here to offer kids a positive activity and many others offer the same type of service to the community.  As well, you are constantly enveloped in the sounds of the community – the rooster crowing, the newspaper headlines announced over the loudspeaker, the church broadcasting mass, next door neighbor kid practicing his trombone for the local children’s orchestra.  The community web around you is palpable and part of what makes it an enjoyable place to visit and live.

Adherence to Tradition.  If you don’t appreciate religious processions, fireworks day and night, an occasional traffic inconvenience, and lots of celebrations, Tepoztlán is not the place for you.  There is a something going on literally every week or weekend in this festive town. Sometimes (but not always) non-Tepozteco Mexicans see the strict adherence to local customs as inconvenient or backwards. Yet this is the glue that keeps the community together. As a result, locals are a little suspicious of other non-Tepozteco Mexicans, but do appreciate foreign tourists.  It is thought that foreign tourists visit Tepoztlán because they appreciate the local customs, traditions, and festivals.  As a result people are very nice and courteous to you as a guest in town. 

I am reminded of the slogan for Austin, Texas – “Keep Austin Weird.”  You want to keep what makes your community unique and Tepoztlán does this very well.  It is different than any place you will visit in Mexico.  These elements taken together as a whole certainly make Tepoztlan safe but also a very authentic and wonderful place to visit.   

Okay.  Off my soapbox for a while.  Next posts will be cooking related!

Peace, Love, and Good Food!

Chef Ana Garcia

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

As Safe as Kokomo?

Quick Quiz:

Which town has the lowest murder rate?
A. Omaha, Nebraska
B. Toledo, Ohio
C. Tepoztlan, Morelos, Mexico
D. Kokomo, Indiana

Okay.  Trick question.  There are two right answers: Tepoztlán is tied with Kokomo for the lowest rate over Omaha and Toledo.  What?  It can't be. Is crime out of control in Omaha and Toledo? Will Anderson Cooper be hitting the "mean streets" of Kokomo in a helmet and flack jacket for his next piece on "60 Minutes?"  Should the state department issue a warning about travel to America's heartland?  Of course not.  They are all safe places . . . . and so is Tepoztlán.  They are not only great towns but idyllic communities in which to live, visit or just be.

So, you may have wondered where I have been with my lack of blog updates.  What have my legion of marketing minions been doing with their spare time (bad Robb! bad Robb!)?  Thankfully, we have been receiving a steady flow of guests and with my three kids (four, if you count the big one), I just haven't had the time to keep up on the social media.  I am sure many of you know the feeling - you know you should be doing it but real conversations and real people get in the way.  I guess I have got to make the time in this day-and-age for the "face," the "tweet," the "pin," the "blogidty-blog" and the "i-don't-know-what."  If my children would just surrender my iPhone every now and then, I might be able to do more. But I promise I will be more communicative from now on.  Really. 

I have wanted to do this post for a while.  We have had a great flow of reservations this year primarily due to studious foodies who do their homework about Tepoztlán and the quality of the experience at La Villa Bonita. We have been very busy. We still get the occasional call asking about security - which is ABSOLUTELY FINE.  We are happy to explain what a wonderful place this is.  The problem is that there is no reference or perspective to give you over the phone that would accurately portray an authentic and secure place like Tepoztlán.  So, we wanted to be able to offer a quick answer that would get right to the point.  With Robb doing his research, we can now respond, "as safe as Kokomo."   

Everyone who lives here knows that Tepoztlán is a wonderful place.  The community is very tightly knit, the town maintains its traditions, great farmer's market, vibrant artistic community, wonderful children's orchestra, even a little league baseball team.  Life goes on here as it has for generations.  Robb, wanted the actual hard data to show with numbers how safe Tepoztlán is so he decided to start with the local tourism board.  The person in charge of tourism in Tepoztlán then petitioned the state for the official information who passed it along to Robb.  This is the first time this information has been shared.  Since this is a small town sometimes people don´t think about what it represents outside of the town.  The first reaction from the local functionaries was "We all know how it is here.  Is this a surprise?"  However, it is much easier to explain how nice a place this is with real data and comparisons than with anecdotes. 

Tepoztlán, as a town and county, has a lower homicide rate than pretty much every major city in the US.  Actually for 2011, there was not one murder inside of the town of Tepoztlán and only three in the entire county which has a population of over over 45,000.  

Okay.  Lets take a step back and understand how this works.  Very special thanks to my Robb for putting this together, because this is not my forté.  I cook -- I don't crunch numbers.  The actual town of Tepoztlán has a population of about 29,000 people and Tepoztlán is the county seat for Tepoztlán county (or "municipio" in Spanish) which includes other towns such as San Juan Tlacotenco, Santiago Tepetatla, Santo Domingo Ocotitlán, San Andres de la Cal, Santa Catarina, Ixcatepéc, Amatlán.  The total population of Tepoztlán county is about 45,000 people almost exactly the same as our friends in Kokomo.   

The murder rate is the number of murders and non-negligent manslaughter calculated per 100,000 residents.  Obviously the actual town of Tepoztlán has a rate of 0 for 2011.  The only incident that took place in the town of Tepoztlán in 2011 was the tragic death of a worker in the market who was hit by a drunk driver early on a Sunday morning.  For international statistical purposes that is not considered a murder even though in Mexico it is.  If you make the calculation for the county of Tepoztlán, you reach a number of 6.6 - same as Kokomo.  Lets take a look at some sample city rates for 2010 (we had to use these 2010 numbers because the FBI's official stats for 2011 aren't released yet, which surprised me):

New Orleans 49.1
St. Louis 40.5
Baltimore 34.8
Newark, NJ 32.1
Washington, DC 21.9
Kansas City, MO 21.1
Buffalo, NY 20.7
Cincinnati 20.5
Cleveland 19.0
Atlanta 17.3
Omaha, NE 7.3
Toledo, OH 7.3

Some smaller communities that are the size of Tepoztlán county:

Hot Springs, AR 17.5
Manchester, CT 14.0
Lancaster, PA 9.1
Hattiesburg, MS 7.5
Great Falls, MT 6.7
Kokomo, IN 6.6

I have never visited Kokomo, but I am sure they are a great people in a beautiful town.  After visiting their their site it looks like a fabulous place that I would love to visit. The pictures portray an idyllic small town America that time forgot.  Kokomo was named "Community of the Year" by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce as well the first car was created in Kokomo in 1894 by Ellwood Haynes.  They even have a Kokomo mobile app for Iphone!  Very impressive.  

Apart from the statistics, there are some similarities between the two towns: Tepoztlán is a very attractive town that time forgot with a flow of tourism, local eateries, great shopping, an artistic community, a vibrant farmer's market, and a population that treasures its history, customs and traditions just like Kokomo (okay, we don't have a mobile app but you don't have a pyramid, eh).  I think fate (or Robb) has brought our two cities together and I am going to actively propose a sister city connection.  Two historic, artistic, fun, and safe places coming together.  What do you think, Kokomo?

My next post coming soon will discuss why Tepoztlán is such a authentic, safe and great place to visit.

Peace, love, and good food!

Chef Ana

Monday, May 23, 2011

Remembering a Good Friend

Chuy with Agustin
I don't ever think I would consider myself a "pet person."  When Robb asked me to accept this rolly-polly big ball of a puppy after the return from our honeymoon almost 13 years ago,  I couldn't help but say yes.  Robb made the classic pitch that ever "kid" makes to his parents from age 5 and up -- "I will take care of him and feed him and he will be the best dog ever." 

Chuy was really our first child.  He was a great dog and I grew to love him.  Chuy moved with us from Tampico to Cuernavaca, and finally to Tepoztlan.  I still remember in Tampico when Robb would take him to the golf course as he had trained Chuy to look for balls.  Of course, he also enjoyed finding other people's balls which some people didn't appreciate as well as chasing ducks but he did his job very well.  He would actually jump and bark towards the television screen when golf was on to try and find the ball.

As well, I recall how protective he was of children.  When Matias was young and learning how to swim, Chuy would jump into the pool and swim circles around him until Matias grabbed his tail.  Chuy would then pull him out.  He never was very comfortable with small children in the pool and would not relax until they were safe.

As many of our guests know at La Villa Bonita, Chuy was the first to greet you upon arrival.  He made lots of friends with our guests.  Chuy was with us on the first day that we opened and was a true part of our family. 

Chuy passed away this Saturday at almost 13 years of age.  He had recently been diagnosed with a couple of serious and inoperable conditions and things deteriorated rapidly from there.  This Saturday when the boys went to play baseball in Mexico City, I noted that he was not doing well.  I called Robb and informed him.  Robb said they would come home as fast as they could. 

When Robb arrived Chuy was not doing well.  He was still responsive but lying on the floor in the house.  Robb called the vet to put him to sleep as he didn't want him to suffer.  The boys were very afraid and upset but Robb cleaned up Chuy so that they could stay with him for a while and say goodbye.  Chuy tried to get up but couldn't.  After they said  their goodbye and hugged him, Robb felt that the boys should go over to the neighbors before the vet arrived, but Matias insisted on staying and stroked his head, telling him that he was a good dog and that we loved him very much.  Matias was very brave and comforted him until he passed away 20 minutes later.  By the time the vet arrived, he had left us.

I know that sometimes pet owners project their human emotions to their pets but I truly believe that Chuy stayed around just long enough to say goodbye to Robb and the kids.  It was just his character - faithful until the end.

We all will miss you, Chuy. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The "Commonality" of Food

Many people ask me, how is it that your guests seem to get along so well when they come from all different walks of life, different ages, different places?  I have to tell you that I have been offering my culinary vacation packages for over ten years and it is amazing and very gratifying to watch every week how my guests come together and become friends.

The holidays for us are always busy with guests, and of course . . .the holidays!.  This year was no exception.  We had guests from Virginia, New York, Florida, Michigan, Texas, Chicago, Los Angeles, and even Tabasco, Mexico and Australia.  This year we had women traveling by themselves, friends traveling together, families with adult children and their spouses, a family of three generations - grandmother, mother and 2 year old granddaughter, and couples.  The amazing thing is people who perhaps under different circumstances would not have a reason to say "hello" on the street, become such great friends so quickly making their first mole at La Villa Bonita at what is supposed to be such a hectic and stressful time during the holidays.

I attribute it to the "commonality" of food and the culture that goes along with it.  If you enjoy good food, like to travel, and are open to appreciate another culture, you have so much in common with other people who on the surface seem so different.  In this day and age, we tend to compartmentalize and categorize everyone.  Society gives you a label and you are supposed to act in accord when in reality there are so many other areas of common ground that people of different walks of life share.

When you come to La Villa Bonita, you have made a conscious decision to not "veg on the beach" during your vacations.  You appreciate learning about another culture and are open to try new things.  You are a "learned" person -- not necessarily with titles or degrees -- but  with a thirst for knowledge and new experiences.  And, of course, you must love food.  If you have all of those qualities, you are very likely to enjoy this type of vacation at La Villa Bonita and have lots of things in common with our guests.  But there is no template for who our "normal" guest is with respect to age, race, sex, or nationality.

I have to admit that I was very pleased this year because it was such a great cross-section of all the guests of different walks of life that come together making their first tortilla from scratch.  It makes my job so much fun to see how people of such seemingly diverse paths converge and enjoy themselves.

Peace, love and good food,
Chef Ana

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dia de los Muertos Week, Oct. 31-Nov. 6

My Favorite Week is Coming Up - Dia de los Muertos
Dia de los Muertos week is traditionally our most popular week of the year - even in front of our popular Christmas Week.  It is a time of year that you really get to see and do some great things that we do not normally do.  First, you get to make Pan de Muertos with the master baker of Tepoztlan.  He still uses a wood-fired stove that creates some of the most delicious artisan pastry you have every tried.  As well, we will create our own altar and the neighbors with their little children come and view it.  This week as well, we will make traditional dishes for Tepoztlan during Muertos in our open-air kitchen.  Our excursion are a bit different as we visit villages nearby to see how the cemeteries are decorated with an incredible variety of flowers.  If you are a true foodie and would like to participate in a unique cultural experience, you cannot miss Dia de los Muertos week.  We have only a few rooms left and would love to have you join us at La Villa Bonita.

Peace, love, and good food!

Chef Ana

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Spice up your Superbowl TV Tour of California Feb. 4-6

I have to admit.  I enjoy the live television appearances.  They are fun and unpredictable.  The backstage is always busy with stars, production staff, and on-air people running around.  The first time I appeared on KTLA, there was a big breaking news story (a shooting in a synagogue) that took control of the show with live reports from the scene.  I was up and down all morning getting ready for a teaser for the segment.  The LA mayor made a late press conference that caused my segment to be bumped.  I thought Robb was going to die.  Poor guy, he collectively takes on all our stress.  We had a plane to catch at 1 so we filmed a segment as if I were in the studio the following day.   After such a crazy morning, it is hard to snap to attention after 4 hours but within the first few seconds I caught my second wind.  Live TV is fun.

KTLA asked me to come back to do a segment on the Posadas which we did in December.  This time I knew what to expect and came prepared.  The environment in the studio is hectic but informal at the same time.  As I was setting up my display, a guy with sunglasses and a leather jacket asked me what I was doing.  I have to admit in that moment I had no idea who he was but we exchanged pleasantries and I proceeded answer his questions about the Posadas and La Villa Bonita.  I was told later by Robb that this was Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon who was promoting his new Christmas album.  They were backstage warming up with their guitars.  I have to admit, I can be a little clueless about US pop references but my husband serenaded me with his a capella version of "I Can't Stop This Feelin' Anymore" and I figured it out.  Just then a swarm of people came in on their way to the studio and in the middle was James Cameron.  Yes, Robb had to tell me who this was as well, but that is what makes him such a good partner, trip planner, executive assistant, sleazy agent, and "chief bottle washer" (American sayings are such fun! Really, bottle washing?) .  James Cameron gave his interview and left with his herd of suited people with clipboards.  Robb tried to pitch him on the idea that the "Ana Garcia" avatar would have been a great addition (this part is not true).  If have to admit, the craziness of this environment is fun.

This time around we are doing a real California tour with Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego.  Everyone does somewhat Mexican-inspired super bowl dishes so I thought it would be a good idea to offer a segment on authentic Mexican dishes for your Superbowl party.  With a wide array of IMUSA products, I will make a fabulous Guacamole Chinelo with fruit, home made totopos, a black bean, chipotle and chorizo dip, golden taquitos filled with potato and parsley, micheladas with Modelo Especial, and a drunken salsa.  Click for all the Spice up your Superbowl Recipes.

If you are not in one of these cities, you can still watch the show online either with a live feed as is the case with the San Francisco show at 3 PST on there website or you can watch a pre-recorded stream from the same site.  Here is the schedule for the appearances:
  1. February 4th, KTLA's Morning News at 9. Two Hall-Of-Fame Football Players are supposed to help me here during the segment.  Robb will once again have to give me context as to who they are and I am not even sure that will help.  It has not been confirmed yet if they will be donning those "stretchy pants" that football players like so much.
  2. February 5th, ABC7 The View from the Bay in San Francisco (3:00 pm PST).  This show is going to be a lot of fun because it has a live audience.  The show is hosted by Spencer Christian of "Good Morning America" fame and Janelle Wang.  Thanks to Betsy Cordes for the introduction here!  Wish I could stay longer in San Francisco because I love the food scene there but we are off to San Diego right after the show.  By the way, if you want to be a part of the live audience you can do so by calling (415)-954-7733.
  3. February 6th, KUSI's Good Morning San Diego (9:00 am PST).  Sorry Chargers fans.  We were hoping that they would have advanced farther.  Better luck next year.  I will still try to give you a tasty super bowl party with these dishes.
So, I hope you watch the segments or better yet if you can be in the audience for the View from the Bay that would be great.  You can heckle me . . . Okay.  No, don't heckle me.

Peace, Love and Good Food
Ana Garcia

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Tree Tradition in Tres Marias

I have never been a big fan of the Christmas tree. Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas and decorating my house fully for the season, but the tree has never been high on my list. I don't like the fake trees and I feel bad about buying a real tree that has been trucked in from who-knows-where. My husband convinced me that there were local trees that you cut yourself that support some worthy rural areas that are trying to create sustainable businesses that are good for the environment. I also have two young boys and would like to create a tradition with them of going to get the tree and decorating it.

In Mexico, the cutting of a tree is serious business. All trees are federally protected. If you do not have an official permit to cut a tree you can be pulled over for violating federal law. In Morelos, my husband found one of only two state-designated Christmas tree farms. This one was located close to Tres Marias in the mountains.

We gave a call to Fidelina Vasquez the propietor of the farm and met her in the intersection of the old highway to Mexico City that crossects the road to Huitzilac. She joined us in our car to guide us to where the trees are. She brought her handsaw, twine, machete and a very charming disposition. We had a wonderful conversation about her farm and the type of trees that she grows. She struck me as a very hard working and entrepreneurial person. The boys were very excited as we travailed the dirt road up in the mountains. She explained to us that the variety that she has is a native one called ayacahuite and is very renewable variety. Fidelina had been taking classes on how to care for the trees, grow them, and how to re-grow them not only from seedlings but also from the stump that is left after it is cut.

We selected our tree and wrapped it in twine. Fidelina told us that it takes about 5-8 years for the tree to be Christmas tree size from a sapling. However, the stump will usually grow two "new" trees which cuts the growth time by 2-3 years.

After bunding up the tree, my husband pulled the tree to the car and we loaded up the family. We took Fidelina back to her home and she gave us a special factura or receipt saying that this was an authorized tree cut.

The drive back from the tree field was very picturesque with the drying stacks of hay.

Here is our finished product at home at La Villa Bonita. It is a very charming tree. Not your usual Christmas tree. For those of you in southern Mexico City, Cuernavaca or Tepoztlan it is an easy drive to pick out your Christmas tree next year and you will be supporting the local economy as well as a very hard-working and entrepreneurial woman. Fidelina Vazquez Tel: 01(739)393-0267.

Where am I?

Many of you may be wondering where I am! I am still here! I have been traveling very much over the past 5 months on projects with my sponsors, television appearances, and in furtherance of my own telelvision series in the US. All in all, it has been a crazy year but we are all looking forward to a great 2010. I can tell you I am very happy to be home and looking forward as well to receiving guests at La Villa Bonita in January and February. Time to get back to what I do best -- teach my traditional Mexican family dishes to my guests and open windows into the richness of Mexican culture.

We had a great response to our sale for Christmas and New Year sale but it was restricted because of very high airfare over the holidays. We did notice, however, a great drop in airfare for January and February from hubs in the US and Canada. Since we are finally home and want you to join us, we extended our $875 USD off per room sale to January and February dates. It is almost like getting your airfare for free! Escape the cold at LVB this winter!

Peace, Love, and Good Food

Ana Garcia

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Bringing the Family Together Over the Kitchen Table: Tips on Getting Kids to Appreciate Good Food

One of the things I am proudest of in my short 5 years of "parentdom" is getting my kids at a very early age to appreciate a wide variety of food. I was very proud of my 5 and 1-year-old on a recent family trip to Maine to visit our good friends, Cookie and Tony. As a family, we love eating the best local food or specialty dishes we can find. Of course, in Maine you must have lobster, blueberries, wonderful summer vegetables, and mussels. My kids ate everything with a passion along with harvesting their own mussels and devouring them for dinner.

I am not a child psychologist, expert or anything of the sort but I have made a few observations along the way that may be helpful. This blog entry is an introduction into what we will explore in upcoming blogs in more detail.

1. Its Up to You. Parents give signals to their kids all the time. Little facial gestures or unintended messages that you probably don't even notice. Studies have shown that even small babies have incredible facial-recognition ability. Trust me, they are watching you! If you are picky eater as a parent, your kids will be too. If you express disdain about eating a particular food, they will copy you -- especially young children. As a parent, you need to take the lead. If you expose your children to a wide variety of foods at an early age and express your enjoyment in eating something good, your children will pick up on it.

2. Start Young. Don't limit your child's palate at an early age. Expose them to fresh food. I see a lot of young eaters become picky when they first start on solid foods. I know it is convenient to purchase the supermarket baby food. After a long day of work, it is totally understandable. I have used them myself especially when traveling, but creating your own baby food ,even out of the simplest things, will start them out early on the right path. There is an early window of opportunity to get your kids to have an adventurous palate. In my experience, that age is between 1-3 years old. It is harder to change bad habits once they reach the age of saying "no" randomly and expressing their independence.

3. No Kids Menu. None of my children eat off the kids menu, but not because I say so. Chicken fingers, hot dogs, pizza or other dummied-down dishes for your kids are convenient pretexts for placating picky eaters but just plain bland. My husband and I have traveled with our 5-year-old since he was very young. When we would go out to a restaurant, Robb and I would order for ourselves and Matias would eat from both of our dishes on his own plate. Now at age 5, he refuses eat off the kid's menu and actually cried when one of our friends ordered from it on his behalf. Kids enjoy good food too!

4. Cook with Them. Kids love to cook and they will appreciate the effort of preparing food if they have participated in making it themselves. My eldest loves to claim that he is "a good cooker." Giving kids the opportunity to cook with you is an easy way to get them motivated to eat well and appreciate the effort. Finding small tasks and developing knife skills will give them the ability to actually help. The Montessori system in school helps a lot! This is my eldest helping Tony put the lobsters in the pot.

5. Show Them The Source. This is one of the most important elements. Kids need to understand that food doesn't naturally come in shrink-wrapped plastic. Showing children where vegetables and fruit actually come from with the local grower is a great way to introduce them to the concept. It is fun for kids to pick their own produce in the summer or better yet when you have a little garden in your back yard. When we were in Maine, we went to the Lobster pound to see how they are harvested. As well, we waded into the mud to gather our own mussels. Both kids loved getting muddy, trying to find the right-sized mussels. It gave them context to what they were eating and a great story to tell.

6. Appreciate Where You Are. We try to go on a family vacation every summer and eating locally is one of our favorite things. Getting the best of where you are is important, not only to appreciate the joys of traveling, but to expanding your child's palate. Don't just plan what tourist sites you are going to see, talk about what you are going to eat long before you get to your destination. My son was talking about the mussels, one of his favorites, long before we arrived in Maine. He enjoyed his meal even more after he harvest, cleaned and helped prepare them.

Coming up! The recipe that we enjoyed in Maine -- Lobster Enchiladas with Pipian (Mole Verde). It was so GOOOOOD! Picture below.

As always . . . Peace, Love and Good Food.

Chef Ana

Friday, July 24, 2009

Kids and Cooking, Kids for Free at La Villa Bonita

Coming Very Soon! My favorite topic: Kids and Cooking. This series of blog entries is very close to my heart. I firmly believe that if kids are introduced to the kitchen early, it can actually bring the family closer together and give them a great appreciation not only for food but where it comes from. No more chicken fingers, hot dogs or horrible children's menu. They won't want it!

To intoduce this new series to our blog, La Villa Bonita is offering an incredible opportunity. August has been declared a Family Month at La Villa Bonita. KIDS JOIN US FOR FREE FOR SELECT AUGUST DATES! Click for more information. Lets have fun as a family this August!

More to come!

Peace, Love, and Good Food,

Chef Ana

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mexico Meets Colombia: Guajillo Chicken Stew

Okay, todays recipe may make no sense unless I give a little context. I am close to signing an agreement with a major cookware manufacturer in the US market. We met with them last week and saw their current products which have primarily focused on the carribean hispanic market in the US. The gave me a sample of their products to take home and use in relation to the type of cooking that I do. One of these pots is called a caldero.

The caldero is a traditional Colombian pot close to a dutch oven that is great for rice dishes and stews. A sancocho, which is one of the national dishes of Colombia, can be made in this type of dish. It is made of thick cast aluminium but it is very light. This dish in Mexico we would call a budinera and use for something totally different -- a budin or custard in English.

So, I took on of the big calderos and decided to create a new recipe for our family lunch - Guajillo Chicken Stew. I have to admit it turned out great. I love stews even in the summer. It is great comfort food as I grew up with lots of rustic stews that we would have for a simple lunch. So, LETS PLAY WITH OUR FOOD!

Click for the recipe in PDF (Adobe) format. Ana's Guajillo Chicken Stew.

Peace, love and good food,

Chef Ana

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th of July from La Villa Bonita

My son said that I could get a temporary "green card" to celebrate the 4th of July if I made a cake with him for a party we are attending. We made a vanilla chiffon cake with a layer of lemon curd plucked from our trees, raspberries and blueberries for the stars and stripes and a whipping cream icing.

More coming up soon on kids and cooking!

Peace, love and good food!

Chef Ana

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Best Ceviche Ever (with Recipe)

Last week we decided to take a break and visit some friends in Puerto Escondido. It is very easy trip from Mexico City with a short one hour flight. On the other hand, it is a 13-15 hour drive in car. With a one and four-year-old, that option was quickly discarded. We have been to Puerto before so this time instead of just enjoying the immediate surroundings we fished, surfed, dined, and enjoyed the town a little more.

My 4-year-old went with my husband and our hosts on an early morning fishing trip which netted great results: a 90 lb. Sailfish and two Mahi-Mahi or Dorados as they are called here in Mexico. Upon the return to shore, the local fish mongers prepared the fish right on the beach. I had the Sailfish prepared like thick salmon steaks and the Mahi-Mahi filleted. Immediately upon their arrival at the house, I decided to make a very simple ceviche with some of the Mahi-Mahi. I chose a simple ceviche because when you have fresh fish like this you want to taste it as much as possible and enjoy the great texture. This ceviche was one of the best I have ever had and the right-out-of-the-sea freshness made all the difference. Wow!

I took the Mahi-Mahi fillets and cut them into 1/2 inch cubes. This is important for a couple of reasons - first the fish needs to physically stand up to the lime. If you cut the fish too thin, the fish will disintegrate into a mushy mess. This is especially true with fish that is not very fresh. Second, you want to enjoy the full flavor of a fresh fish. Keeping it in cubes maintains the flavor in every bite as the lime doesn't totally penetrate the fish. It is very popular in restaurants these days to have exotic ceviches with lots of extra or non-traditional ingredients which overtake the subtle flavor of fresh fish (it may also be a sign that you are not having fresh fish). When you have fresh fish, keep it simple. Don't over complicate the delicate flavor. Everything else should take a back seat.

Okay, here comes my personal pet peeve -- throw away those funny plastic lime concentrate bottles. I know they are there . . . in the back of your refrigerator. . . mocking me. Only use fresh-squeezed citrus as noted in the recipe. In fact, I don't know when lime concentrate is ever needed in recipes. For this recipe, it is important for the acid in the lime to work as it should in "cooking" the fish. Concentrate just doesn't do the job very well. Additionally, I prefer the smaller or mid-sized limes. We don't have those big thick rind limes that you find in the States. I am sure they will work fine if you can't find the smaller ones.

Is your mouth watering yet? Anyone up for a Mexican Coastal Cooking Week in Puerto Escondido? Red Snapper a la Veracruzana, local Rock Lobster in Pipian, Grilled Chile Encrusted Shrimp? Let me know and we will make it happen!

Here is the link to the PDF file for the complete recipe. Enjoy!

As always . . . Peace, Love, and Good Food!
Chef Ana

Monday, May 18, 2009

Biggest Discount Ever at La Villa Bonita this Summer

Have you wanted to come to La Villa Bonita but couldn't quite find it in your budget? Your ship has come in. Now is your time. Pack your bags. Join us this summer! An offer like this will not be repeated.

Respected travel experts like Peter Greenberg are telling travelers that now is the time to travel to Mexico as hotels have a lot of space and are offering big discounts. As well, the timid and uninformed traveler will stay at home making you an even more desired and honored guest! You will be appreciated! La Villa Bonita is no exception.

Summer is a great time to join us at La Villa Bonita. Why? Because it is one of the most temperate seasons of the year. Crazy isn't it? Everyone thinks Mexico has to be hot during the summer. April and the beginning of May are our hottest months of the year in this part of central Mexico. Then cooling rains begin at night in mid-May to make the temperature very enjoyable. The rains start at about 10 at night making for wonderful sleeping weather and the sun comes out during the day keeping it cool but not humid. As the summer progresses, the gardens and mountains become vibrant green with numerous waterfalls emanating from springs in the surrounding mountains.

Ten years ago when we started the culinary vacation packages, we based them on my Iowan mother-in-law's desire to travel and actually learn about a culture instead of vegetating on the beach at some big box hotel. As many of you know, I married an Iowan and I appreciate the well-educated and well-traveled "gentleman farmers" (wink, wink). Phyllis is an incredible person! If you would like to meet her as well as other guests join us from June 21-28. It will be a very special week and we will have some fun "extras."

As well, we have plenty of room for other dates this summer in June, July and August. If you cannot join us for the big sale this summer, you can still get a great discount but you need to make your reservation for post-August dates by May 28, 2009. You will receive a 20% discount but you have to act fast (click on the picture for full details). As usual, the informed person always gets the best deal!

We hope to see you this summer.

Peace, Love, and Good Food
Chef Ana

Monday, May 11, 2009

Chef Ana's Top Ten Reasons to Love Tepoztlan

  1. Tepoztecos do not support chain restaurants. Local producers and restaurants rule!
  3. Tepoztecos are subsistence farmers who live comfortably and are very happy people. Stubborn, but happy. It is amazing what you can do with corn, chiles, beans, tomatoes and squash.
  4. No rat race. Whether for better or worse, Tepoztecos work until they have "enough," . . . then they go home and plan their next party. The social nature of your profession is almost more important than earning money. When I wanted to buy all of the masa for an event from the masa lady, she told me "If you buy everything, what the hell am I going to do for the rest of the day?"
  5. Local traffic police remind me of a strange Mexican version of Andy Griffith's Mayberry (yes, I have seen this show, there is one officer that actually looks like Barney Fife. My Photoshop abilities officially suck).
  6. Excessive amount of fireworks for every festive event (not to be confused with bullets, only Barney has them in town and he drops them a lot)
  7. Did I mention we have a lot of parties here? No one can stop a Tepozteco party, quinceañera, birthday, birth and death of historical figures, beginning and end of wars, every saint, every chapel, every day, party, party, party! Nothing stopped here over the past few weeks, not even for a moment.
  8. In two seconds, you know everyone -- La Casa Azul cheese house, Don Sergio the strawberry man, Doña Toña the butcher, the flower ladies from Tetela del Volcan, your favorite quesadilla stand, the tortilla and masa mill, the traffic cop, the mayor. They will know you long before you know them.
  9. Absolutely courteous traffic. Did you read this one, Chilangos? Read and repeat, please. You are expected to let the other party go through on the narrow cobblestone streets. It is not only appreciated but you will receive the universal dictator's wave in return.
  10. Don't Screw with Tradition -- not only are you are expected to yield to any procession, celebration, or party going on, you are expected to participate. Party on, Wayne! Party on.