Tag Archives: international travel

So you think you know Mexican food?

“Thankfully, we’re starting to pull away from the idea that all Mexican food means burritos as big as your head.” Chef Rick Bayless 1

Chef Luis Noriega’s Grilled Tuna topping Mint Scented Vermicelli
Chef Luis Noriega’s Grilled Tuna topping Mint Scented Vermicelli

American Chef Rick Bayless has built his celebrity status on both introducing Mexican regional cuisine to the United States as well as creatively reinterpreting its concepts to a 21st century palate. Naturally the word fusion comes to many people’s mind. Yet fused from where and with what – other ingredients from the Americas?

If you accept that concept – other ingredients from the Americas – than it’s not a fusion (a joining of unknowns) it’s creativity with native sources that form a cuisine of the Americas. It’s estimated that over 50% of commonly eaten foods by North American descendants of European immigrants were unknown to their ancestors prior to 1492 including vanilla, tomatoes, bell peppers, catfish and ducks.

tuna steak from Mexico's northwest coast
tuna steak from Mexico’s northwest coast

So if we can get beyond the self-imposed value judgment of authentic cuisine – aka a real Italian pizza is only made with (American) tomatoes…? – than perhaps we can revel in our human culinary diversity and sit down to an enjoyable meal full of terrific flavors.

When covering the recent 22nd Festival Gourmet International in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, more than one first time visitor to both Puerto Vallarta and the festival commented how they had “no idea” cuisine in Mexico was so varied? The names of several popular American corporate chains of Tex-Mex food were often cited. The festival’s hallmark was highlighting Mexico’s ever-evolving New World cuisine.

Chefs Luis Noriega & Heinz Reize owner of Coco Tropical
Chefs Luis Noriega & Heinz Reize owner of Coco Tropical

Chef Luis Noriega’s illustrious international career has taken him from Acapulco to European capitals and Chef/Professor at leading Mexican culinary collages. He is chef/owner of Restaurant La Gula in the south central Mexican Pacific coast city of Zihuatanejo. At the November festival Chef Noriega conducted an in-depth daytime cooking workshop and lunch at Puerto Vallarta’s Coco Tropical on the beautiful beachfront Malecon.

Restaurant Coco Tropical, Puerto Vallarta Malecon
Restaurant Coco Tropical, Puerto Vallarta Malecon

Grilled sesame crusted tuna steak on a bed of mint scented vermicelli may not sound Mexican, but more than half the ingredients are indigenous to the Western Hemisphere and the remainder were introduced through European domination more than 500 years ago. So the recipe is as “American as apple pie” – apples are indigenous of central Asia.

Chef Luis Noriega’s Grilled Tuna topping Mint Scented Vermicelli

Ingredients for 4 servings:

  • 500 gr. (16 oz)  fresh tuna steaks
  • to taste                fresh ground sea salt & black pepper
  • 100 gr. (3 oz)     sesame seeds
  • 50 ml. (3½ tablespoons) olive oil
  • 100 gr. (3 oz)     rice vermicelli
  • 50 gr. (1½ tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 10 each              finely chopped leaves of fresh mint
  • 2 each                small ripe avocados
  • 2 each                green chili piquin – very small HOT chilis – finely                                minced – or substitute ½ to 1 teaspoon (hot) hot                                 sauce
  • 50 ml. (3½ tablespoons) sour cream

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 Preparation:

  1. Cook the rice vermicelli according to package directions
  2. Mash the avocados and blend in the chili and sour cream to make either a chunky or a creamy guacamole.
  3. Place the sesame seeds in a bowl, season tuna with salt & pepper and coat the tuna steaks.
  4. Heat  (preferably) a cast iron pan, add the olive oil and sear the tuna steaks for a minute or 2 per side until browned but pink in the middle. Transfer to a cutting board.
  5. Drain the rice vermicelli and toss with butter and the mint.
  6. Divide the vermicelli among 4 plates, top with slices of tuna steak and decoratively add a generous garnish of guacamole.

Serve with a fine Rivero Gonzalez Scielo Blanco (Chardonnay) from Mexico’s Valle de Parras, Coahuila and enjoy New World cuisine.

When you go:

Puerto Vallarta is served by many international airlines.

The 23rd Festival Gourmet International will be held November 10 – 19, 2017.

Disclosure: the author was a guest of the Festival Gourmet International, Puerto Vallarta Tourism, Restaurant Coco Tropical, Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel and Hotel Cathedral.

Footnote:

1 “Let’s Talk to Rick Bayless About Mexican Food.” The National Culinary Review, Vol. 41, Num. 2, American Culinary Federation, February 2017, St. Augustine, FL

Additional Puerto Vallarta articles by Chef Marc d’Entremont:

Oysters two ways in Puerto Vallarta

Vegan Chef Christian Krebs wows Puerto Vallarta

Cruising Bahía de Banderas with Mike’s Fishing Charters

Discovering the meaning of pride in Puerto Vallarta

Villa Premiere: excellence by design in Puerto Vallarta

Mexican New World Cuisine at Festival Gourmet International

Angus Beef recipe, Chef Luis Noriega and Puerto Vallarta

Wagu Tatki and Japanese Mexican Fusion

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You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Original World Insights

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Oysters two ways in Puerto Vallarta

Oysters au gratin & Raw oysters with sea urchin & quail eggs
Oysters au gratin & Raw oysters with sea urchin & quail eggs

For twenty-two years Puerto Vallarta – a food tourism powerhouse – has hosted the Festival Gourmet International attracting an eclectic and enthusiastic mix of international and Mexican chefs eager to turn the nation’s premium food products into culinary art works. Among many highlights of the 2016 festival were cooking demonstrations, tastings and special festival menus created by guest chefs at A-list Puerto Vallarta restaurants.

Since I have a passion for oysters, two dishes created by Mexican chef Luis Noriega and Japanese-American chef Hiroshi Kawahito were particular favorites. Mexico’s northwest Pacific coast – particularly Puerto Vallarta’s Bay of Banderas and the Gulf of California – produce both excellent oysters and sea urchins.

Chef Luis Noriega
Chef Luis Noriega

Chef Heinz Reize has owned the beautiful oceanfront Coco Tropical on the Malecon for years and is a co-founder of Puerto Vallarta’s Festival Gourmet International. Coco Tropical’s guest chef Luis Noriega’s international career has taken him from Acapulco, Europe to owner of Restaurant La Gula in Zihuatanejo. His inspired festival menu for Coco Tropical included grilled oysters over wilted spinach with chipotle hollandaise sauce.

Oysters au gratin with Chipotle ­­Hollandaise Sauce

Ingredients for the oysters:

  • 12 each                   fresh oysters on the half shell
  • 5 tablespoons     unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces                fresh baby spinach leaves
  • 5 tablespoons    dry white wine
  • 1 each                     shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 each                    clove garlic, finely chopped
  • several drops    Worchester sauce
  • pinch                      black pepper
  • pinch                    salt

Ingredients for the Hollandaise Sauce:

  • 4 each                egg yolks
  • 10 ounces        clarified butter
  • 3 ounces           white wine
  • 1 each                chipotle chili liquefied in a blender with a small                                   amount of white wine
  • pinch                   salt

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Preparation:

for the oysters

  1. Shuck oysters but reserve bottom shell. Wash and dry the shells.
  2. Sauté spinach, onion and garlic with 4 tablespoons of butter, salt, pepper and Worchester sauce.
  3. Saute oysters in a seperate pan with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter for 1 minute. Add the white wine and reduce for 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Remove both pans from the heat but keep warm.

for the Hollandaise Sauce

  1. In a stainless steel bowl set over another pan with hot water beat the egg yolks, white wine and salt with a wire whisk until slightly thickened and creamy.
  2. Slowly add the clarified butter in a thin stream whisking constantly until the sauce is smooth.
  3. Blend in the chili puree.

dsc06430Assemble

  1. Divide the spinach among the 12 reserved shells on a baking dish.
  2. Top each with an oyster.
  3. Cover with Hollandaise Sauce.
  4. If you have a gas torch, gently brown the top or place the oysters under the broiler until lightly browned.
Monte Xanic Sauvignon Blanc
Monte Xanic Sauvignon Blanc

Serve immediately with a crisp, dry white wine such as Monte Xanic Sauvignon Blanc from Mexico’s Guadalupe Valley.

 

 

 

 

 

Chef Hiroshi Kawahito
Chef Hiroshi Kawahito

Chef Hiroshi Kawahito of Restaurant Zoku in Mexico City epitomizes the international trend that’s creating Mexican New World Cuisine. Born in Japan, grew up in Los Angeles, Chef Kawahito returned to his home country after university studies in architecture. Drawn to Japanese cooking he honed his skills over a decade and a half before returning to Los Angeles.

Despite a successful Los Angeles restaurant experience, Mexico attracted Hiroshi, and Zoku offered a venue for his imaginative Japanese inspired cuisine. During the 22nd annual Festival Gourmet International held in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, he was quest chef at Casa Magna Marriott’s Japanese/pan-Pacific Rim restaurant Mikado.

Chef Kawahito’s recipe for raw oysters with sea urchin and quail eggs is not for the faint of heart. Yet for a true lover of raw food, I enjoyed ever morsel. It’s imperative that the ingredients are as fresh as possible and purchased from shops selling the highest quality ingredients.

Fresh sea urchin is available at Japanese or other specialty seafood markets. If you can’t find fresh sea urchin but want to sample this dish simply double the quantity of salmon caviar, or substitute two tablespoons of golden caviar. Gently wash the quail eggs with warm water and dry before cracking them open.

watermarked2016-11-17-1554

Raw oysters with sea urchin & quail eggs

Ingredients:

  • 12 each              fresh oysters on the half shell
  • 2 each                sea urchin tongues thinly slivered
  • 2 tablespoons    salmon caviar
  • 12 each              quail eggs

Preparation:

  1. Shuck the oysters and discard the top shell.
  2. Top each oyster with some sea urchin and ½ teaspoon caviar.
  3. Carefully break a quail egg over each oyster being careful not to break the yolks.
  4. Serve immediately.
Sawanotsuru Itsuraku Premium Grade Saki
Sawanotsuru Itsuraku Premium Grade Sake

I often don’t think of sake as a dinner wine, but Chef Kawahito dispelled that myth pairing the oysters with a glass of chilled Sawanotsuru Itsuraku Premium Grade Sake. It’s mild umami notes and dry finish were perfect.

 

 

 

When you go:

Puerto Vallarta is served by many international airlines.

The  23rd Festival Gourmet International will be held November 10 – 19, 2017.

Disclosure: the author was a guest of the Festival Gourmet International, Puerto Vallarta Tourism, Restaurant Coco Tropical, the Mikado at Casa Magna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa, Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel and Hotel Cathedral.

Additional Puerto Vallarta articles by Chef Marc d’Entremont:

Vegan Chef Christian Krebs wows Puerto Vallarta

Cruising Bahía de Banderas with Mike’s Fishing Charters

Discovering the meaning of pride in Puerto Vallarta

Villa Premiere: excellence by design in Puerto Vallarta

Mexican New World Cuisine at Festival Gourmet International

Angus Beef recipe, Chef Luis Noriega and Puerto Vallarta

Wagu Tatki and Japanese Mexican Fusion

Other oyster dishes in Puerto Vallarta: (clockwise from top left) raw, grilled with zarandeado sauce, grilled on coals with butter, fresh oysters on ice, raw served on the beach
Other oyster dishes in Puerto Vallarta: (clockwise from top left) raw, grilled with zarandeado sauce, grilled on coals with butter, fresh oysters on ice, raw served on the beach

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Original World Insights

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Wagyu Tataki and Japanese Mexican fusion

Chef Hiroshi Kawahito & Wagyu Tataki
Chef Hiroshi Kawahito & Wagyu Tataki

Chef Hiroshi Kawahito of Restaurant Zoku in Mexico City epitomizes the international trend that’s creating Mexican New World Cuisine. Born in Japan, grew up in Los Angeles, Chef Kawahito returned to his home country after university studies in architecture. Drawn to Japanese cooking he honed his skills over a decade and a half before returning to Los Angeles.

Restaurant Mikado at Casa Magna Marriott, Puerto Vallarta
Restaurant Mikado at Casa Magna Marriott, Puerto Vallarta

Despite a successful Los Angeles restaurant experience, Mexico attracted Hiroshi, and Zoku offered a venue for his imaginative Japanese inspired cuisine. During the incomparable 22nd annual Festival Gourmet International held in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, he was guest chef at Casa Magna Marriott’s Japanese/pan-Pacific Rim restaurant Mikado.

The up-scale design of the restaurant with seating surrounding expansive cooking stations allowed participants at Mikado’s festival cooking demonstration an up front experience of Chef Kawahito’s imaginative preparations. Crispy panko crusted giant shrimp from Mexico’s northwest coast rested on a tartar sauce seasoned with Japanese 7 spice. A personal favorite was fresh-shucked local oysters topped with raw quail egg, caviar and sea urchin.

Wagyu rib eye steaks raised in Durango, MX
Wagyu rib eye steaks raised in Durango, MX

The key to Mexico’s New World Cuisine is pairing local ingredients with international preparations. Wagyu beef is now raised in Durango. Sea urchin is available in the Gulf of California.

Wagyu Tataki is quick to prepare. The tender barely seared beef blends well with the subtle brininess of sea urchin. It’s a beautiful dish for a special meal.

For the home cook, wagyu beef is available at good meat markets. Fresh sea urchin is available at Japanese or other specialty seafood markets. Salmon caviar can serve as a substitute.

ingredients for Wagyu Tataki
ingredients for Wagyu Tataki

Wagyu Tataki – 2 servings or 4 as a first course

Ingredients:

  • 2                               3-ounce Wagyu rib eye steak
  • 2 teaspoons       truffle oil
  • 2 slices                  fresh lime
  • 1/3rd teaspoon    Hawaiian black salt or sea salt
  • 2                                sea urchin tongues or 3 tablespoons salmon caviar
  • 2 tablespoons     Japanese ponzu sauce
  • 1                                  radish thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons         finely diced fresh chives
seared wagyu steaks
seared wagyu steaks

Preparation:

  1. Thinly slice the sea urchin tongue and set aside.
  2. Heat a cast iron pan until very hot – a couple drops of water should dance in the pan and quickly evaporate.
  3. Sear the two steaks for 1 to 1-1/2 minutes per side. The steak will be rare but not bleeding. Transfer to a cutting board. Thinly slice each steak and arrange on 2 to 4 plates.
  4. Sprinkle half the black salt on each steak and then 1 tablespoon ponzu sauce and juice from 1 lime slice.
  5. Arrange half the sliced sea urchin or caviar over each steak and drizzle each with 1 teaspoon truffle oil.
  6. Garnish with radish slices and fresh chives.

Although this dish is easy to prepare, why not enjoy a vacation in Puerto Vallarta and feast in the full range of New World Cuisine in Mexico’s culinary powerhouse.   A historic seaport, dining on the beach, the warm water of Bahia de Banderas, beautiful hotels and guest houses make Puerto Vallarta a safe and easy choice for the whole family.

Wagyu Tataki
Wagyu Tataki

When you go:

Puerto Vallarta International Airport (PVR) is served by many international airlines from major cities worldwide.

For the 23rd Festival Gourmet International in November 2017 check the web site: http://www.festivalgourmet.com/en/

Disclaimer: the author was a guest of the 22nd Festival Gourmet International, Puerto Vallarta Tourism, and the Mikado at Casa Magna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa.

More Puerto Vallarta articles by Chef Marc d’Entremont:

Vegan Chef Christian Krebs wows Puerto Vallarta

Cruising Bahía de Banderas with Mike’s Fishing Charters

Discovering the meaning of pride in Puerto Vallarta

Villa Premiere: excellence by design in Puerto Vallarta

Mexican New World Cuisine at Festival Gourmet International

Angus Beef recipe, Chef Luis Noriega and Puerto Vallarta

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Original World Insights

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Vegan Chef Christian Krebs wows Puerto Vallarta

Quinoa sushi with wasabi panna cotta
Quinoa sushi with wasabi panna cotta

Swiss Chef Christian Krebs is not personally 100% vegan. But you know the old saying, “happy wife, happy home.” His vegan spouse, Vera Webber, is a second generation owner of the historic and renowned Grand Hotel Giessbach. Among its three restaurants is the vegetarian/vegan Le Tapis Rouge for which Chef Krebs serves as culinary consultant.

(left) Chef Thierry Blouet, (right) Chef Christian Krebs
(left) Chef Thierry Blouet, (right) Chef Christian Krebs

Based on the enthusiasm Chef Krebs displayed during the 22nd Festival Gourmet International in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for vegan cuisine his wife is a successful influence. As guest chef at Café des Artistes, considered by many to be Puerto Vallarta’s premiere restaurant, Christian Krebs took the challenge of proving vegan dishes are not simply a platter of steamed vegetables. He enthralled guests at both his vegan cooking demonstration and the sold-out themed dinner attended by Puerto Vallarta’s food aficionados.

(left) Chef Thierry Blouet, (right) Chef Christian Krebs & staff at the Café des Artistes festival vegan dinner
(left) Chef Thierry Blouet, (right) Chef Christian Krebs & staff at the Café des Artistes festival vegan dinner

Yet in a country known for its meat, fish and seafood, Café des Artistes owner/chef Thierry Blouet was not the only one who gave center stage to vegan cuisine during the festival. One of the original founders of Puerto Vallarta’s Festival Gourmet International, this multi lingual Puerto Rico born French expat has made Mexico and Puerto Vallarta his home for decades. The quality of his restaurants have justifiably gained Chef Blouet celebrity status leading with his flagship Café des Artistes located in the heart of historic Puerto Vallarta.

Smiling broadly at the Café des Artistes cooking class Chef Krebs conducted for the festival he stressed that all dishes are fascinating if they start with a good recipe and preparation. Like all excellent chefs, he uses multiple ingredients creating layers of flavor in recipes such as delicate rice flour crepes which held a fragrant filling of sautéed tofu and spinach seasoned with vegetable and herb reductions. Thin slices of sautéed eggplant, onions, tomato and herbs were arranged in individual timbale molds and baked melding the flavors into an eye-appealing dish.

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His twist on a vegan sushi roll of seasoned quinoa, papaya, mango and avocado paired with a wasabi scented soya based panna cotta is refreshing and not at all difficult to prepare.

Quinoa sushi with wasabi panna cotta – 4 rolls

Note: make the wasabi panna cotta one day ahead since it needs 24 hours to gel. Use agar not traditional gelatin which is made from animal ingredients.

Special equipment: bamboo sushi mat for rolling

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Ingredients for the sushi:

  • 16 ounces (2 cups) water
  • ½ pound (1 cup) quinoa
  • 5 ounces (1/3rd cup) rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sake
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 mango peeled and sliced lengthwise into sticks
  • 1 avocado peeled and sliced lengthwise into sticks
  • 1 small papaya peeled and sliced lengthwise into sticks
  • wasabi paste to taste
  • 4 nori seaweed sheets

Ingredients for wasabi panna cotta:

  • 4 ounces ( ½ cup) soy milk
  • 4 ounces ( 1/2 cup) soy cream
  • 1 teaspoon agar powder (or 1 tablespoon agar flakes or ½ bar agar)
  • 3 tablespoons wasabi paste
  • drop or two of green vegetable coloring
  • chopped fresh herbs (to use as garnish and/or add to panna cotta)

dsc06158

Preparation of sushi:

  1. Cook quinoa in 2 cups simmering water, covered, for 15-20 minutes until water is absorbed and the white “tails” are visable.
  2. Gently stir in rice vinegar, saki, salt and pepper. Cool to room temperature.
  3. Place one sheet of nori on the bamboo mat and gently spread with ½ cup seasoned quinoa.
  4. Spread a line of wasabi paste lengthwise across the quinoa and arrange sticks of sliced avocado, mango and papaya.
  5. Using the bamboo mat, roll the nori tightly. Allow the roll to rest for several minutes before slicing.

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Preparation for the panna cotta:

  1. Slowly heat the soy milk and soy cream for 2 minutes, stirring, until the agar melts. Remove from the heat. Add the wasabi paste and combine.
  2. Add the food coloring if desired.
  3. Line 4, 4-ounce custard cups with plastic wrap and fill with panna cotta. Refrigerate for 24 hours.
  4. Unmold each panna cotta onto a plate. Garnish with fresh herbs and arrange the sushi slices.

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When you go:

Puerto Vallarta International Airport (PVR) is served by many international airlines from major cities worldwide.

For the 23rd Festival Gourmet International in November 2017 check the web site: http://www.festivalgourmet.com/en/

Disclaimer: the author was a guest of the 22nd Festival Gourmet International, Puerto Vallarta Tourism, and Café des Artistes.

Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta

Additional articles on Puerto Vallarta by Marc d’Entremont

Cruising Bahía de Banderas with Mike’s Fishing Charters

Discovering the meaning of pride in Puerto Vallarta

Villa Premiere: excellence by design in Puerto Vallarta

Mexican New World Cuisine at Festival Gourmet International

Angus Beef recipe, Chef Luis Noriega and Puerto Vallarta

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Original World Insights

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Angus Beef recipe, Chef Luis Noriega and Puerto Vallarta

Among the five course festival menu Chef Luis Noriega created for Coco Tropical, the Angus short ribs marinated in a fragrant mixture of sautéed dried peppers, herbs and spices then wrapped in banana leaves and slow braised  was something I never tasted north of the Rio Grande.

Barbecued Beef Guerrero Style
Barbecued Beef Guerrero Style
Chef Luis Noriega
Chef Luis Noriega

Chef Luis Noriega’s illustrious international career has taken him from Acapulco, European capitals to Chef/Professor at leading Mexico culinary collages. He is chef/owner of Restaurant La Guia in the south central Mexican Pacific coast city of Zihuatanejo. Recently Chef Noriega conducted an in-depth daytime cooking workshop and lunch at Puerto Vallarta’s Coco Tropical for the 22nd Festival Gourmet International.

Unlike many culinary festivals, Festival Gourmet International in Puerto Vallarta stretches over eleven days with dozens of events among one-time theme dinners and brunches, wine and tequila tastings to daytime cooking classes and lunches with guest chefs throughout the city. Additional participating restaurants offered nightly festival menus created by their sponsored guest chefs.

More than one first time visitor to both Puerto Vallarta and the festival commented how they had “no idea” cuisine in Mexico was so varied. The name of one popular American icon of Tex-Mex food was often cited. The breadth of the 22nd annual Festival Gourmet International ranged from Pakistani to Austrian fusion menus.

Yet the festival’s hallmark was highlighting Mexico’s ever evolving New World  cuisine.

Chef Heinz Reize & Chef Luis Noriega
Chef Heinz Reize & Chef Luis Noriega

Chef Heinz Reize has owned the beautiful oceanfront Restaurant Coco Tropical on Puerto Vallarta’s Malecon for years and is a founder of Puerto Vallarta’s Festival Gourmet International. This is not the first time Chef Noriega has teamed with his old friend.

Barbecued Beef Guerrero Style – 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 to 1-½ pounds Angus beef short ribs
  • 2                                 dry Guajillo chili peppers
  • 2                                 dry Ancho chili peppers
  • 1/2                                     medium white onion diced
  • 2 medium             ripe tomatoes diced
  • 2                                garlic cloves diced
  • 1 tablespoon      ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon      ground clove
  • 1 tablespoon      ground cinnamon – preferably fresh ground stick
  • 1 tablespoon      fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 pinch                  dry thyme
  • 1 pinch                  dry marjoram
  • zest from one    medium naval orange
  • 2 each                    hojas de (leaves of) aquacate & guayaba (at Latino food markets)
  • 1/4th cup              apple cider vinegar
  • 2 each                    large fresh banana leaves (at Latino food markets)
  • or
  • 1                               12” X 18” sheet of parchment paper
  • 24 ounces diced fresh yellow sweet potatoes (not yams)
  • 3 tablespoons     sugar
  • 7 tablespoons     fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 7 tablespoons     sour cream
  • pinch          freshly grated nutmeg
Angus short ribs
Angus short ribs

Preparation:

  1. Wearing gloves, remove the veins from the chilies and as many of the seeds you wish – they contain much heat – and sauté in a hot cast iron pan with one tablespoon oil for 5+ minutes. Add the onions and saute 5 more minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook additional 2 minutes. dsc06456
  2. Remove pan from the heat and add one cup boiling water – slowly or else it’ll splatter on you. Add the leaves, if available, and soak for 20 minutes.
  3. In a dry small hot cast iron pan quickly toast the ground spices and orange zest stirring constantly for a minutes or until fragrant.  Remove from heat.
  4. dsc06470In a blender add the vinegar, chilies, soaking water, toasted spices and dry  herbs. Blend until liquefied. Transfer to a small saucepan and, over medium-low heat, simmer until reduced to a sauce.
  5. dsc06472In a very hot cast iron pan brushed with just a touch of olive oil sear the Angus beef on both sides for two minutes.
  6. Remove the pan from the heat and brush both sides liberally with the chili sauce.
  7. dsc06480Line a baking dish large enough for the beef with the banana leaves or parchment paper and fold the leaves over encasing the short ribs. dsc06478
  8. Cover and bake in a pre-heated 240° Fahrenheit oven for 4 hours.
  9. During the last hour gently simmer the diced sweet potatoes with the orange juice, sugar and 1 cup cold water in a sauce pan for 30 to 40 minutes until fork tender. Mash along with the sour cream. Serve with slices of beef.vade-vinos

The dish was superbly paired with a Spanish petit verdot imported by Va de Vinos. This new import company is quickly adding to Mexico’s reputation for embracing fine wines. The deep berries of the petit verdot melded with the rich natural sauce of the braised beef.

Keep in mind, this was a major international festival, but Puerto Vallarta’s culinary scene is smoking every day.

 

When you go:

Puerto Vallarta is served by many international airlines.

For the 23rd Festival Gourmet International in November 2017 check the web site: http://www.festivalgourmet.com/en/

Disclaimer: the author was a guest of the 22nd Festival Gourmet International, Puerto Vallarta Tourism, Restaurant Coco Tropical, Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel and Hotel Cathedral.

spice mix
spice mix

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Original World Insights

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The best Greek shrimp recipe ever

Chef Giorgos Kosmidis Halkidiki shrimp
Chef Giorgos Kosmidis Halkidiki shrimp

The three peninsulas of Halkidiki – Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos ­– are the summer playgrounds of Macedonia. Blessed with numerous and secluded beaches, surrounded by the clear blue Aegean sea with pine forested mountains of wild flowers, olive trees and vineyards, it’s no wonder Halkidiki has been favored by Greeks since antiquity. Only a couple hours drive from the nation’s second largest city, Thessaloniki, and within a day’s drive from the Balkans, its many resort hotels especially draw a plethora of Eastern Europeans, Ukrainians and Russians seeking sun, sand, hospitality and Greek cuisine.

The Halkidiki penninsula Athos – Mount Athos
The Halkidiki penninsula Athos – Mount Athos
Ouranoupolis
Ouranoupolis

The Alexandros Palace is located just outside Ouranoupolis, one of many towns built in the 1920s as a result of the traumatic exchange of Greek and Turkish populations that took place after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the merger of Macedonia into Greece. Once the site of an ancient village – its 14th century tower fortress is a landmark – and still the gateway to 7,000 ft. Mt. Athos, today Ouranoupolis is a tourist and fisherman’s town.

pool: Alexandros Palace Hotel
pool: Alexandros Palace Hotel

The Alexandros Palace Hotel, within site of the autonomous and sacred Monastic State of Mt. Athos, is a self-contained 250-room resort village rising from its wide beach up the hill and spreading over 90 acres. Like most of Halkidiki’s resorts an all-inclusive meal plan includes extensive buffets for breakfast and dinner and offers something for everyone from meat lovers to the devoutly vegan. Yet true Greek cuisine shines in Halkidiki hotels a la carte restaurants for those not desiring a buffet.

Chef Giorgos Kosmidis
Chef Giorgos Kosmidis
Fresh fish/seafood at Alexandros Palace
Fresh fish/seafood at Alexandros Palace

Chef Giorgos Kosmidis commands the poolside Taverna at the Alexandros Palace Hotel. Having enjoyed several meals over two separate trips, it has taken this chef journalist a year to convince chef Giorgos to part with his intensely flavored yet simple shrimp creation. The Aegean is a seafood lover’s supermarket and the shrimp may well have been caught that very day off the coast of Ouranoupolis.

Chef Giorgos Kosmidis Halkidiki shrimp – four servings

Ingredients:

clockwise from far left: unpeeled shrimp, strained shrimp stock, Greek oregano, ingredients for stock
clockwise from far left: unpeeled shrimp, strained shrimp stock, Greek oregano, ingredients for stock
  • 1 pound large shrimp (reserve shells for the stock)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano – preferably Greek oregano
  • 2 tablespoons sweet butter
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 cups chopped parsley
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • salt and white pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika

Preparation:

Clockwise from top left: ingredients for sauce in pot, cooked sauce, sauteed shrimp, prepared Halkidiki shrimp
Clockwise from top left: ingredients for sauce in pot, cooked sauce, sauteed shrimp, prepared Halkidiki shrimp
  1. Remove the shells from the shrimp and reserve the shrimp in the refrigerator while making the stock.
  2. Place the shells in a quart size saucepan and add the bay leaves, nutmeg, oregano and a little salt and white pepper. Add cold water just to the level of the shells. Place the saucepan over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Cook until the liquid is reduced to 1/4th of a cup (2 ounces). Strain and discard the shells reserving the reduced shrimp stock.
  3. Melt the butter in a sauté pan and cook the shrimp for one minute turning once.
  4. Add the wine to the shrimp, bring to a simmer and cook for one minute.
  5. With a slotted spoon remove the shrimp from the wine and keep warm.
  6. To the wine add the 1/4th cup shrimp stock, parsley and garlic. Bring to a simmer and cook for two minutes.
  7. Add the heavy cream, cayenne pepper and sweet paprika. Bring to a simmer and cook for five minutes.
  8. Add the reserved shrimp and warm for one minute.
  9. Divide among four plates and serve with crusty bread used to absorb the sauce and a dry Greek white wine such as Mt. Athos ΙΕΡΑ ΜΟΝΗ ΑΓΙΟΥ ΠΑΥΛΟΥ (Holy Monastery of St. Paul), Monoxilitiko, a blend of 90% sauvignon blanc with local varieties. It had a nose of honey and sage followed by summer floral notes with a surprisingly dry finish.

While at the Alexandros Palace Hotel, don’t pass up the luxurious Panalee Spa and the new specialty shop ­selling Mt. Athos wines, skin care products and local foods. In the evening, the spacious Theater Bar with its lower level dance floor and stage might as well be the town square of this village resort. Twin brothers Thomas and Janis Aslanidis, the musically talented and genial young heirs to the Alexandros Palace Hotel, might just be tending bar and don’t be surprised either if managers Yiannis Misopapas and Kyriakos Mandouvalos are mingling among the guests. After all this is Greece with hospitality and cuisine as legendary as its mythology.

When you go:

Ouranoupolis is an easy 2 – 3 hour drive (busier on weekends) on modern roads from Thessaloniki International Airport.

Alexandros Palace Hotel, Ouranoupolis, 63075, Halkidiki, Greece. (Athos) Tel + 30 23770 31402 / 31424 Fax: +30 23770 31100

Email: info@alexandroshotel-halkidiki.com 2017 season runs April through mid-October.

Disclosure: the author was a guest of the Alexandros Palace Hotel and the Halkidiki Tourism Organization.

the beach at Alexandros Palace Hotel
the beach at Alexandros Palace Hotel

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

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Recipe for a Spanish inspired salt cod stew

Salt Cod for sale in the Basque market town of Ordizia
Salt Cod for sale in the Basque market town of Ordizia

I was a boy when I first became familiar with salt codfish. Racks of salted fillets would line the docks of our ancestral Nova Scotia Bay of Fundy village where my parents maintained a home. I loved sautéed Acadian cod cakes made with potatoes and the salty fish served with pickled chow chow.

fillets of salt cod before soaking
fillets of salt cod before soaking

Salting cod is at least 500 years old and became a staple food product and cash crop for Canada’s Maritime Provinces, Northern Europe and the Caribbean Islands. I grew up on stories of the infamous triangular trade route before I knew its full implications. The stories were romance for my early wanderlust as generations of my family caught, salted and transported this easily preserved fish to hot Caribbean islands in return for the dark rum and molasses that would warm my relatives during cold, wet Maritime winters.

ingredients for the recipe
ingredients for the recipe

While living in Puerto Rico as a young adult I immediately recognized the wooden boxes of salt cod marked with Canadian port towns I was familiar. Nothing had changed for centuries, except being introduced to the breadth of recipes this simple fish had inspired. Light fritters of salt cod – bacalaítos – became a favored comfort food.

Some years later traveling in Basque Country I enjoyed Bacalao a la Vizcaina, their codfish stew including hard-boiled eggs, capers and raisins. In France I scarfed down copious amounts of rich, elegant Brandade de Morue, a whipped spread with olive oil, cream and potatoes on crusty baguette slices.

ingredients for the recipe
ingredients for the recipe

As a chef I’ve often played with salt cod. With the worldwide decline of cod stocks due to over fishing salted pollock is a suitable substitute available in North American stores. I feel my recipe for a salt cod stew appeals to most North American tastes.

Salt Cod Stew – 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound salt cod prepared 2 days ahead of using
  • 3 cups prepared or canned, drained & rinsed garbanzo beans
  • 1 large sweet onion
  • 4 ribs celery
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 2 scallions – green & white part.
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup chopped green olives
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 – 28 ounce can diced stewed tomatoes with juice
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 2 baking potatoes
  • chopped parsley for garnish

Preparation:

(Two days before making the stew)

  1. Place the salt cod in a stainless steel or glass dish large enough to completely cover with cold water. Refrigerate the cod changing the water 2 to 3 times a day for two days.
  2. prepared garbanzo beans (chick peas)
    prepared garbanzo beans (chick peas)

    If using dried garbanzo beans start their preparation the same day as the cod. Cover ½ pound dried garbanzo beans with 2 quarts cold water. Cover and soak for at least 12 and up to 18 hours. Drain and rinse the beans. Place into a heavy 2-quart pot and cover with two quarts cold water. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, cover and cook for 1 hour. The water should simmer not boil or else the beans may break up. Check after one hour. The beans should be tender but not mushy. Drain and rinse. Refrigerate until ready to use.

(Cooking the stew)

  1. Drain the cod and pat dry with paper towel. Slice the cod fillets into chunks about 1 to 1-½ inch squares.
  2. Dice the sweet onion, celery, green pepper, scallions and garlic.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a heavy 4-quart pot. Add the onion and celery and sauté until the onions are translucent. Reduce the heat slightly and add the green pepper, scallions, basil and oregano. Continue cooking for 5 minutes stirring frequently.
  4. Increase the heat and add the salt, black pepper, chopped garlic, cod chunks, chopped green olives, the entire can of diced tomatoes and the 2 cups of cold water.
  5. Bring the stew to a simmer, cover and reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook for 45 minutes.
  6. While the stew is simmering, peel and dice the potatoes. Place the diced potatoes in a bowl & cover with cold water to prevent browning until ready to use.
  7. After 45 minutes of simmering the stew, drain and add the diced potatoes and the prepared or canned and drained garbanzo beans.
  8. Return to a simmer. Taste test the stew to check for salt and add more if desired. Cover and simmer the stew for an additional 45 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
  9. Ladle into bowels and sprinkle with chopped parsley. You may spice it up with hot sauce to taste.

Like with so many stews, you can make this a day ahead of time. Allow the stew to cool for an hour and refrigerate. Gently reheat before serving.

This stew is excellent accompanied with a green salad and a good dry wine such as a Spanish rioja.

My Spanish inspired salt cod stew
My Spanish inspired salt cod stew

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

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Peace, waterfalls and trout in Costa Rica’s Cloud Forest

Looking down on the Central Valley with San Jose in the distance
Looking down on the Central Valley with San Jose in the distance

Leaving the sprawling modern city of Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose, Maurice Aymerich, director Small Distinctive Hotels and my guide throughout my stay in Costa Rica, deftly maneuvered the Toyota Rav4 on the winding roads as we ascended into the Cloud Forest. I was pleased I didn’t have to drive or else my field of vision would have been narrowed concentrating on the well paved but narrow mountain roads on our way to La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Instead I could marvel at the panorama of the receding Central Valley as we entered the lush landscape for which this bio-diverse Central American nation is justifiably famous.

a Cloud Forest flower
a Cloud Forest flower

Costa Rica is a landmass equal to 0.03% of the Earth, about 20,000 square miles – the size of Vermont – but accounts for over 6% of the globe’s biodiversity. Just one hour from San Jose the emerald green mountain slopes are thick with coffee plants. Costa Rica leads world coffee production per acre because two trees are planted together.

strawberries & white cheese
strawberries & white cheese

Herds of cows and goats graze wrapped in swirls of misty clouds. Vendors selling large plump strawberries and the country’s ubiquitous balls of fresh mozzarella-like white cheese line village roads.

plants at Parc National Volcan Poas
plants at Parc National Volcan Poas
Volcan Poas
Volcan Poas

We stopped first at one of Costa Rica’s 27 national parks, which along with private wildlife and biological reserves encompasses nearly a third of the country – the largest percentage of protected national land on Earth. Central America is a seismically potent part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, and Parc National Volcan Poas encompasses one of Costa Rica’s six active volcanoes. Exacerbated by the temperature differential of the venting volcano, the crater is often shrouded in mist that wafts up the steep walls of the caldera. Yet when the mist parts mineral rich turquoise lakes are visible.

Crafts at the Visitor Center Parc National Volcan Poas
Crafts at the Visitor Center Parc National Volcan Poas

The spacious modern visitor center at Parc National Volcan Poas has fine educational exhibits of the surrounding ecology. The gift shop displays top quality pottery and woodwork from some of Costa Rica’s most famous artists. I was particularly taken with the ingenious creations made from recycled materials such as a life-size toucan crafted from a single automobile tire.

toucan crafted from a single recycled automobile tire with carved wood beak
toucan crafted from a single recycled automobile tire with carved wood beak

Our objective for the day was a visit to the privately owned La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Peace Lodge – one of the Small Distinctive Hotels of Costa Rica. Florida entrepreneur Lee Banks purchased this property with its five spectacular waterfalls with the intention of preserving its pristine biosphere. Visitors take self-guided tours along several miles of well-designed wooden walkways through the hills, along the La Paz River providing numerous vistas of the spectacular falls.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens
La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Within the gardens is a large butterfly house with a colorful collection of over 4,000 butterflies from 40 species native to this mile-high environment – only a small portion of Costa Rica’s over 1,200 species. The butterfly conservatory is part of an educational heritage village of pre-industrial rural life.

In the butterfly conservatory, La Paz Waterfall Gardens
In the butterfly conservatory, La Paz Waterfall Gardens

The visitor center complex is the gateway to the gardens and Peace Lodge. The architectural integration of the structures with their native wood and stone mirrors the surrounding environment. Like all Small Distinctive Hotels, the quality of the cuisine matched the beauty of the surroundings.

(left)Vanessa Gonzalez & (right)Executive Chef Diego Seitour
(left)Vanessa Gonzalez & (right)Executive Chef Diego Seitour

Lunch with Vanessa Gonzalez, restaurant manager, and Executive Chef Diego Seitour highlighted the quality of local ingredients and the creativity of Costa Rican talent. Diego’s French grandfather and Argentine born father were chefs. His Spanish mother added an additional culinary insight to his environment. Diego was born in Costa Rica and studied culinary arts in France and Costa Rica but worked in restaurants since he was a boy. I found this mix of talents and culinary backgrounds common in Costa Rica.

sea bass ceviche
sea bass ceviche

Lunch started with a sea bass ceviche. The paper-thin slices of sea bass were garnished with pajibaye – the iconic steamed bright orange Costa Rican fruit of the Peach Palm tree – and napped with a lime, orange juice and olive oil dressing that was bright and intense. Diego adds meat bones to the broth when simmering the pajibaye to provide a depth of flavor uncommon when the fruit is simply cooked in water.

trout Napoleon
trout Napoleon

Surrounding the base of a waterfall adjacent to the swimming pool at Peace Lodge is a large free form trout pond fed by the La Paz River. Chef Seitour uses the organically farmed trout in his menus. His impressive trout Napoleon is a pair of fillets sandwiched between grilled onions and eggplant resting on risotto cakes that have been pan seared. The accompanying vegetables and rice have a smoky flavor, which gives depth to the trout. The fish is glazed with a red and yellow pepper jam.

Papaya Curry soup
Papaya Curry soup

Papaya and Curry Soup blends the natural sweetness of papaya with the spice of curry creating a warm flavored soup.

Diego has assembled an impressive collection of craft beers for Peace Lodge. A local Escalante brew was dark and strong with a distinct hint of chocolate followed by coffee notes that worked well with the warm tones of the soup. Famed Spanish chef Ferran Adrià created Estrella Damm Inedit for Barcelona based Damm S.A. that had strong citrus overtones with a light and effervescent mouth feel. It paired well with both fish dishes.

Peace Lodge
Peace Lodge

Hugging the hillside, the village-like complex of 18 rooms and suites of Peace Lodge are unique. Each is individually designed to integrate the Cloud Forest into the room while providing maximum privacy. Large log beds, stone gas fireplaces – Peace Lodge is 5,300 feet elevation – plant infused bathrooms with their own waterfalls and hot tubs on private patios and balconies are only a few of the serine elements that make Peace Lodge a sought after refuge and honeymoon haven.

Peace Lodge
Peace Lodge

I found it unique that Peace Lodge suggests no more than a three day stay. The expressed purpose is to encourage guests to explore the rest of Costa Rica. After over a week at five Small Distinctive Hotels I was no longer surprised at this sentiment, which seems to run counter to maximizing profits. What makes the Costa Rican experience memorable is the obvious pride both the owners of these beautiful hotels and ordinary citizens from scientist to street vendors have for their peaceful nation and their eagerness to share it with visitors.

trout pond & the swimming pool at Peace Lodge
trout pond & the swimming pool at Peace Lodge

When you go: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is served by many airlines worldwide and is within an easy 20 minute drive to downtown San Jose and an hour to La Paz Waterfall Gardens/Peace Lodge

Disclaimer: The author was a guest of Small Distinctive Hotels, ENroute Communications and Revista Ander de Viaje. Special thanks to my guide throughout my stay in Costa Rica Mauricio Aymerich, director Small Distinctive Hotels. Transportation within Costa Rica was provided by Toyota Rent a Car of San Jose. A Rav4 made Costa Rica’s mountain roads, especially the few unpaved, safe and comfortable.

Additional articles on Costa Rica by Marc d’Entremont:
It begins with scented hand towels
Cuna del Angel is discretely gluten-free in Costa Rica
Monteverde Biological Reserve is a climate change laboratory
Costa Rica and the vision of Pedro Belmar
Cream of Pejibaye: a Costa Rican national dish
Hotel Grano de Oro: ethics and luxury in Costa Rica
Villa Caletas: luxury with a conscience in Costa Rica
Exquisite Pacific Bisque at the El Faro Hotel, Costa Rica

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

 

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Cruising Bahía de Banderas with Mike’s Fishing Charters

The yacht Achlli
The yacht Achlli

The Bahía de Banderas is a sport fisherman’s dream and Puerto Vallarta is heaven for lovers of fish and seafood. At the shelf of the Sierra Madre Mountains and the mouth of three fresh water rivers the bay is an ecological reserve for whales, manta rays, coral reefs and sea birds. At it’s deepest points not far from the shore it plunges thousands of feet. From mid-November to April it’s the popular breeding ground for both humpback and grey wales – seems all mammals like to escape cold weather.

Marina Vallarta
Marina Vallarta

Bonita, skipjack, jack crevalle, sierra mackerel, pargo, red snapper, grouper and mahi mahi are all available for sport and at Puerto Vallarta’s restaurants and street vendors. Among the many charters available Mike’s Fishing Charters offers a wide variety of daily options and multi-day trips. A day excursion on Mike’s Fishing yacht Acalii embarks from Puerto Vallarta’s trendy Marina Vallarta residential and resort district.

Capitan Jose & first mate/tour guide Hassam
Capitan Jose & first mate/tour guide Hassam

Capitan Jose and mates Hassam and Jueith offer a relaxing day. Hassam provides running commentary of Puerto Vallarta sites as the yacht sails the coast – far more picturesque than from a bus. The Sierra Madre Mountains provide a dramatic backdrop to view this city that hugs the beaches of the Bahía de Banderas.

Vallarta historic zone from the Acalli
Vallarta historic zone from the Acalli

The elegant yacht Acalli has a spacious air conditioned lounge and ample deck space. A covered top deck is perfect for the bay’s natural wonders while avoiding sunburn. Two well appointed cabins and a modern bath would make an overnight trip a true luxury cruise.

Jueith with one of her excellent Margarettas
Jueith with one of her excellent Margarettas

Jueith is an accomplished mixologist. Her margarita of cucumber, basil, lime, golden tequila with a dash of orange liquor is outstanding. It’s refreshing, not overly sweet and free from ice laden artificial flavor mixes. Jueith uses only real fresh ingredients in her cocktails. It’s common in Puerto Vallarta to rim a margarita with a mix of salt and chili pepper adding an additional flavor note.

Los Arcos Marine Park
Los Arcos Marine Park
sea birds nesting on cliffs of the islands, Los Arcos Marine Park
sea birds nesting on cliffs of the islands, Los Arcos Marine Park

The prize destination in the Bahía de Banderas is the national preserve of Los Arcos Marine Park. Dramatic granite outcroppings topped with a profusion of plant life are the breading grounds for dozens of sea birds that make their nests precariously (it seems to humans) on the sheer rock cliffs. Bedecked with plants as if designed by gardeners, this series of small rock islands have arched tunnels carved by the pounding surf. Their environs are a favorite for snorkelers and divers.

snorkling at Los Arcos Marine Park off the Acalli
snorkling at Los Arcos Marine Park off the Acalli

Mike’s Fishing Charters provides all the equipment needed for guests wishing to explore the islands.

dsc05022Not too many miles south of Puerto Vallarta the lush foothills of the Sierra Mardre tumble into the bay. Villas and boutique hotels cling to the hillsides while thatched palapas dot secluded beaches. Secluded is the operative term because the single north/south highway along the coast is at points up to a mile and a half inland. Many beach locations are accessible only by boat.

Mike's Beach Club
Mike’s Beach Club

Mike’s Fishing Charter’s private beach restaurant – Mike’s Beach Club – is one such venue. The long thatched roof restaurant hugging a white sand beach is a quintessential retreat from the modern world – although wifi is available. Among the menu offerings is superb seafood ceviche, made to order wood fired tortillas with grilled meat fillings and a variety of salads.

Mike's Beach Club
Mike’s Beach Club

After lunch it’s siesta time. Guests can enjoy the clear blue waters of the bay, lounge under a beach palapa or, best yet, nap in one of the colorful hammocks. A day on board a Mike’s Fishing Charter yacht is a relaxing time warp into days before mass tourism.

Disclaimer: the author was a guest of Puerto Vallarta Tourism, Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel,  Latitude and Mike’s Fishing Charters.

You can read more by Marc d’Entremont on Puerto Vallarta:

Discovering the meaning of pride in Puerto Vallarta

Villa Premiere: excellence by design in Puerto Vallarta
Mike's Beach Club
Mike’s Beach Club

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

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Petra and pizza fuses Jordan with the ancients

The treasury, Petra, Jordan
The treasury, Petra, Jordan
sandstone cliffs, Petra, Jordan
sandstone cliffs, Petra, Jordan

Petra was carved into multi colored mineral laden sandstone by the Nabataeans c. 300 B.C., yet this geographically strategic region in present day Jordan generated wealth for whoever had control long before the city existed. As a center for long-haul caravans, some stretching for 700 camels, Petra was an ideal junction for the distribution of goods on their way south, west and north into the Levant, Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean. As for security, Petra was a natural bank vault.

 

The massive city was carved into the red sandstone cliffs on the flanks of Jordan’s vast dry Wadi Araba. The dramatic main entrance through a long towering and narrow gorge – a Siq – was a defensive and psychological tour de force. The eyes are focused on the first building that comes into view, the impressive Al Khaznch. Popularly known as the Treasury, its purpose was more likely ceremonial – shock and awe.

entering Petra, Jordan
entering Petra, Jordan

Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, chosen in 2007 as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and discovered by Hollywood in the Indiana Jones franchise, Petra deserves its reputation as the top tourist attraction in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. With an international mix of visitors, the carriage, horse, donkey and camel rides, the craft and trinket stalls, local musicians and water hawkers add a visceral caravan atmosphere to a serious archaeological site.

Petra, Jordan
Petra, Jordan

Petra’s dominance of the Spice Route in the Levant continued well into the Roman era when the city became the capital of the empire’s Arabian province. Although it’s not clear what use the Nabataeans meant for many structures, the Romans added obvious flourishes – an impressive theater, colonnaded market and freestanding temples. Yet if it were not for the genius of three human accomplishments, the glory of Petra would have been impossible.

Roman era temple, Petra, Jordan
Roman era temple, Petra, Jordan

Petra’s wealth and life in the Cradle of Civilization were based on wheat, sheep and water. The domestication of a wild grain and a feisty animal in prior millenniums allowed for settled life and the rise of towns. Yet all life was dependent on water, especially in regions prone to drought. The Nabataeans mastered an efficient system of dams, cisterns and water channels carved in rock that provided this desert city with a profitable surplus of water.

preparing Bedouin bread
preparing Bedouin bread

While Petra declined after the 5th century A.D. due to changing commercial routes and serious earthquakes, wheat, sheep, people and the need for water remained. The cuisine of Jordan’s Bedouin culture harken back to the basics of ancient settled life. Flat ash bread is still buried under the hot coals while goat, lamb and poultry may be grilled or baked in a hot sand pit. Vegetables of all types are pickled and dried fruits, nuts and cheese round out the basics.

baked Bedouin flat bread
baked Bedouin flat bread

Who knows when humans first discovered that slathering toppings on flat rounds of bread and baking them were tasty and had infinite possibilities? Among the many dozens of mezze – small plates – that dominate Jordanian cuisine, Araies Iahma is a favorite among locals and visitors. Known as Bedouin Pizza, araies lahma is easy to prepare.

Bedouin pizza ready for the oven
Bedouin pizza ready for the oven

Araies Iahma (Bedouin Pizza) – 8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound ground meat – any combination of lamb, beef, mutton or goat
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 green chili pepper, seeds removed, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed and diced
  • 2 tomatoes, blanched, skinned and diced (see preparation)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • pita bread
Bedouin pizza meat mixture
Bedouin pizza meat mixture

Preparation:

vegetable ingredients (note: blanched tomatoes lower right ready to have skin slipped off)
vegetable ingredients (note: blanched tomatoes lower right ready to have skin slipped off)
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C)
  2. Blanch the tomatoes for 45 seconds in boiling water and plunge into a bowl of ice water. Using a sharp knife slit the sides of the skin and slip off the skin
  3. Finely dice the tomatoes, onion, chili pepper and garlic
  4. Add the salt, cumin, and diced vegetables to the ground meat and mix well.
  5. Cut each round of pita in half, and spread a thin layer of meat inside each pocket.
  6. Brush the stuffed pita halves with olive oil and arrange on a sheet pan.
  7. Bake for 7 minutes, turn each pita over and continue for 5 minutes more.

Serve hot with a salad as a light lunch, as an appetizer or part of a festive and elaborate Jordanian mezze buffet.

Cooking class at Petra Kitchen, Petra, Jordan
Cooking class at Petra Kitchen, Petra, Jordan

Araies Iahma is just one of a dozen dishes a visitor can participate in preparing at the Petra Kitchen. The staff of the Petra Kitchen under manager Ali and chef Mustafe have created a participatory dinner that introduces guests to the top tastes of Jordanian cuisine. Couple this with its location at the very epicenter of ancient human achievement, and dining in Petra becomes a bonding experience with the ancestors.

When you go:

Non-stop flights are available from major North American hubs to Amman, Jordan.

Petra is a 3-hour drive south from Amman on modern highways. Although day excursions can easily be arranged from Amman, to give Petra its due, an overnight in one of the new town’s attractive hotels is recommended.

As in all hot arid regions, visitors to Petra are urged to carry and drink plenty of water. Visiting the entire site entails walking 6 to 9 miles round trip, but carriage, horse, donkey and camel transportation is available. Bottled water is easily purchased in the historic site from numerous vendors.

A nighttime candle light illumination of the Al Khaznch (the Treasury) is not recommended. Candlelight at its base fails to do the vast edifice justice. Save your energy for the daylight.

Araies Iahma with cucumbers & labna
Araies Iahma with cucumbers & labna

Disclaimer: the author was a guest of the Jordan Tourism Board North America, the Moevenpick Petra Hotel and the Petra Kitchen. Araies Iahma recipe reproduced courtesy of the Petra Kitchen.

You can read additional articles on Jordan by Marc d’Entremont at:

The historic beauty of Jordan

Four serene destinations in timeless Jordan

Not all Jordan almonds are Jordan Almonds

A glimpse at the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

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