Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Green beans

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and that made me consider all the traditional dishes that go with that meal. Most of them are high in fat, sodium, sugar and calories and are not good for us.
For example the green bean casserole, traditionally made with canned cream of mushroom soup and topped with french fried onions. High in sodium and full of ingredients I cannot pronounce, let alone know what they are - mostly likely not anything that was meant to be consumed..

When I think of green beans, it takes me back to Sunday dinners at my grandmother's: boiled potatoes, simmered flank steak in clear gravy and green beans with bacon, all made from scratch of course.

Here is how I make her green beans:

- 4-6 rashers of bacon, chopped
- 1/4 cup of diced onion (optional)
- 4 cups of fresh green beans, washed and the ends trimmed
- dash of black pepper

Fry the bacon and onions till the bacon is almost crispy
Add the beans and pepper, stir fry till parts start to brown
Add 1/3 cup of water
Cover and let simmer for about 7 minutes or till the beans are done how you like them (I like mine al dente)

This makes a great substitute for the traditional Thanksgiving dish. Add some sweet potatoes and turkey - enjoy!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Sweet potatoes

Next week will be Thanksgiving in the US, with family and friends gathering and all that wonderful food. Getting up at 4am to start the turkey, dealing with kids, family and willing helpers getting under your feet in the kitchen. With a bit of luck the table looks perfect, all the food turns out great and you sit down to give thanks and enjoy a great meal - gone in half an hour! Everyone is stuffed to the gills and ready for a nap after all that filling and not necessarily very healthy food... We won't even talk about the state of the kitchen (pressure washer anyone?)

There must be a better way! One of my favorite fall foods is sweet potatoes. The traditional Thanksgiving dish is the casserole with either a marshmellow or pecan and brown sugar topping - high in calories, sugar and fat. A great substitute for the casserole is grilling the sweet potatoes. I use a grill pan but they can be done on a charcoal, gas or electric grill. If you live anywhere where the weather is nice, an outdoor grill is the way to go. 

4-5 sweet potatoes
olive oil
fresh rosemary (or dried italian herbs)
sea salt

Put the whole potatoes in a sauce pan and boil for about 10 minutes, till tender but still firm.
Drain and cool on a (paper) towel for about 5 minutes and then slice crosswise to 1/2" thickness.
Preheat the grill (pan) on medium heat.
Brush the potato slices on either side with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and herbs.
Grill until lightly brown, about 3 mins on either side.



Friday, November 15, 2013

Shrimp from the Sea of Cortez

Shrimp season in San Carlos is from early September to sometime in April with the best shrimp being caught early in the season. There are several ways to shop for shrimp: from vendors at the side of the road, Tony's Market, the Sunday market at Empalme or from our friends in the fishing village of El Colorado, 35 miles north up the coast from here.

The first thing you notice is how large the shrimp are, some larger than my thumb from tip to wrist. They vary in color from blue to brown. You normally buy them by the kilo (2.2 pounds) which is about 25-30 large shrimp, heads already off, but still needing to be deveined and shelled.

A kilo of shrimp in my sink                                       Cleaned and ready to cook

Once the shrimp are cleaned I season them with salt and pepper (more than you'd think you would need), garlic and olive oil. My favorite way to cook them is my large grill pan for about 5 minutes, turning them over half way. After which, I add a splash of white wine, cover and cook on low for another 2-3 minutes.

This is my basic shrimp recipe - now they are cooked I can make all sorts of dishes, warm or cold.

I like to serve the shrimp with sauteed vegetables over rice: sliced bell peppers in a variety of colors, onions, chopped jalepeno for some spice, and fresh cilantro. With avocado and tortillas on the side makes for a lovely meal.

If, and that can be a big if, there are any shrimp leftover they are great on salads. Here are 2 different ones I like to make:

1. Baby spinach, topped with walnuts, avocado, dried cranberries and goat cheese, a little honey mustard dressing and shrimp.
2. Lettuce with tomatoes, cucumber, walnuts and feta cheese, dressing (choose your favorite!) and shrimp.

Tacos, salads, shrimp cocktail and curries - the  possibilities are endless. How do you like your shrimp?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Walking around Alamos

Mexico has a wonderful history and one of the places worth a visit is Alamos, a colonial town founded in the late 17th century when silver was discovered in the region. The center of town features the church and the Plaza de Armas surrounded by colonial homes with covered verandas (portales).

From the plaza cobble stone roads take you all over town and the best way to see everything is to go for a walk - great exercise, especially when taking the road to the place where we were staying, which was quite steep (much steeper than it looks in the picture!). We were feeling our muscles by the end of a couple of days of going up and down those roads.

Alamos has a great market which can be reached from the main plaza through the "kissing alley". In the indoor market you can find fresh fruit and vegetables, a butcher and a tortilla maker - everything you would need for your day to day fresh home cooked meal. I can't help but thinking how nice it would be to have a nice stroll to market, get your fresh food for the day, hike back to the house and then cook a healthy meal with all the wonderful produce you picked up that morning.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Gone fishing

One of the advantages of living in beautiful San Carlos is the opportunitiy to enjoy the outdoors - kayaking, hiking, biking, swimming in the sea and of course fishing. I had never been fishing before so when a few years ago we were invited along on a early morning fishing trip, we were thrilled. It was a blustery, cloudy day mid December with choppy seas. Being an island girl that didn't bother me at all, quite the opposite. We set off at 6am, a little later than planned and had a wonderful day on the water. The fishing was excellent and although I hadn't planned to take the rod I ended up catching a handful of barracudas and 2 yellowtail. Hauling in a big fish is a lot harder than I thought it would be - great workout for the biceps! The total tally of yellowtail for the whole group was 7, anything from 25 to 35 pounds each.

The fish was cleaned on the boat and we were given neatly filleted fish to take home.

There is nothing so delicious as fish you have caught yourself, fresh out of the ocean. I cooked mine coated in a little ranch dressing, italian herbs and garlic on a bed of onions and bell peppers.

Served with carrots, roasted potatoes and a side salad, it made for a delicious, nutritious and healthy meal.

Going fishing and then being able to enjoy our catch was a wonderful experience. There is so much beautiful produce and fresh seafood available here and there are so many different ways to concoct a colorful, healthy meal with it - the possibilities are endless!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Moving to Mexico

Four years ago we moved from Colorado to San Carlos, Mexico after falling in love with the area on a short visit earlier in that year. In the beginning it is fun to eat out and experience the local flavors but at some point life becomes real and it returns more to home cooking.
The markets here are very different from the massive supermarkets we were used to in the US - even in our small mountain town.

You walk in and the smells are sometimes overwhelming, whether it is the fish or meat, or whatever they are cooking or baking in the back. The produce is very colorful and frankly amazing! Of course not quite the selection we are used to up north and there are things we simply cannot find here (like kale, my new favorite vegetable) The prices are very reasonable, especially for things like avocados and bell peppers. At 29 pesos a kilo for avocados (5 large ones to a kilo) that is 45 cents each, definitely beats the $1.99 each I pay in Colorado!

Santa Rosa Market
Processed food is mostly imported and therefore expensive. The selection is a lot smaller than in US stores. I remember returning to Colorado and walking into the supermarket and being overwhelmed by the number of types of laundry detergent and bleach. Here, bleach is bleach and you may have a choice of 2 or 3 brands of detergent.

It would be very easy to buy the prepared meals at the markets, the burritos, tamales and casseroles for almost pennies but these are not the healthiest options for every day eating. The tortillas are made fresh every day and are addictive! Again, not an everyday option for me, especially since I have found out that wheat doesn't agree with me well. So bring on the veggies!
I like cooking from scratch and experimenting with different vegetable combinations and my husband is a great guinea pig as he loves to eat and gives good feedback.

In future blogs I will get into the fun and games of shopping, preparing and our way of eating here.
Stay tuned!