Walnutella chocolate spread made with Ibarra chocolate

With great trepidation, I just moved Cooking in Mexico from Blogspot to WordPress. It’s like moving from one house to another with some of the accompanying angst. Would anything get lost in the move? When I unpacked the boxes, there were my posts and photos, all intact. What a relief! Now I just hope I don’t lose subscribers or Google ranking. Time will tell.

Yesterday, while still nervous about the move, I eyed the box of Ibarra chocolate, my favorite Mexican chocolate, inexpensive and available in every small grocery store. Nutella came to mind, that delicious, nutty chocolate spread that is so wonderful to eat right out of the jar with a spoon.  A few minutes later, I had a jar of Walnutella sitting on my kitchen counter (I should copyright the name).

Walnutella 

  • 2 disks (6.2 oz./180 grams) Ibarra chocolate
  • 11 oz. (310 grams) shelled walnuts
  • 2 teaspoons toasted walnut oil
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  1. Roughly chop chocolate. As Ibarra is hard, make this easier by warming in the micro-wave oven for 20-30 seconds until soft, but don’t melt it.
  2. Blend chopped chocolate, walnuts, walnut oil and salt in a food processor until smooth. The coarse sugar crystals in the Ibarra chocolate will not completely dissolve.
  3. Pack into a jar and refrigerate.  Eat out of the jar with a spoon when no one is watching, or enjoy on toast.

Walnutella on Multi-Grain Toast

Now that I have the first post up on the new blog home, I feel better. I just hope Google can find me.

UPDATE:  Much later, in fact over two years later, I have reworked this recipe to reduce the sugar. Ibarra chocolate has been dropped, in favor of unsweetened cocoa. This way, it is easier to get a more pronounced chocolate flavor with less sugar. (May 7, 2012)

New Walnutella

  • 2 cups walnuts (10 oz./ 280 grams)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (1.5 oz./45 grams)
  • 1 cup powdered sugar (4 oz./115 grams) OR honey or agave syrup to taste
  • 3 tablespoons toasted walnut oil (or neutral tasting vegetable oil)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
Grind walnuts in food processor until almost smooth — about 3 minutes. Add remainder of ingredients and process until thoroughly blended. Scrape bottom of canister with a spatula to insure that all dry ingredients are incorporated, then process for 30 seconds more.  Store in refrigerator.

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A Guided Tour of the La Cruz Fish Market with Tips for Buying Fish and an Easy Recipe for Pan Fried Fish

Walking through a fish market is fun for a cook, because you never know what you will find. And what you find determines the method of cooking. At the Fish Market in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle today, Mario and Martin at stall #25 had a small selection, but varied enough for our taste. The catch today was mostly pompano, sierra and huachinango, with some jurel, a jack mackerel.

The pompano caught our eye, as we already knew how flavorful and tender it is. We have used pompano to make Fish Fillets Poached in Coconut Milk, Chipotle Fish Soup, Ceviche, and Coconut Fish Fillets. Pompano is a great fish for almost anything you want to do with it, and considering the price here at the fish market — 35 pesos per kilo (about $1.50 per pound) — and considering how great it tastes, you won’t go wrong, no matter how you prepare it.

Two of the other fish offered today, sierra (with their gold dots) and huachinango, could be used for any of the recipes listed, and they are also great for grilling. If you grill, use a fish basket, which you can purchase at the La Cruz Wednesday street market, to place over the coals. Oil the basket and the fish well to make sure nothing sticks.

Whatever you buy, avoid the small huachinango, or red snapper. Because restaurant customers like whole red snapper that are plate-size, fishermen have a ready market for the small, immature snappers. While they may look beautiful on a plate, and be just the right size for one serving, they are juveniles that will never reach reproduction age. The seas are in trouble enough, without catching juveniles that will never be able to restock their species. This morning at the market, another vendor had small red snappers for sale. It was a sad sight.

This is a good time to take your Spanish-English dictionary, along with your camera, a bottle of water, and a reusable shopping bag. With the water, the boats and the fresh fish, you will find photo opportunities in every direction.

It doesn’t take much Spanish to communicate what you want to buy. For soup, “Para caldo”. For pan frying, “Para freír”. For ceviche, “Para ceviche“. That one is easy enough. For grilling, “Para asar”. Say two words, and you will be sold the right fish for your recipe, even if you don’t know what species you want. “Filete” or “Entero” will let your vendor know if you want the fish filleted or whole. If filleted, you can ask for the trimmings, “Huesos y cabeza”, to make fish stock. If you can’t get the words out, write them down. These guys will do anything to help you buy what you want.

If you bought fillets, there is one step to do at home before you start cooking. With your sharpest, thinnest knife, preferably a boning knife, cut out the blood line. This is the strip of red meat that runs down the center of the fillet. Use your fingers to feel the bones in the blood line and cut them out with the red meat. Angle the blade so that you make a diagonal cut into the edge of, and under, the red strip, running the blade down the length of the blood line. Do the same on the other side of the blood line and lift the red strip out. If you don’t cut this out, the blood line will give the fillet a strong, fishy taste. Feel the entire fillet for bones with your fingers tips. If you find any, use tweezers or small, needle-nose pliers to pull them out.

Remove the blood line as soon as you get home, as its taste will permeate the meat if it is left in during refrigerator storage. It doesn’t have to be wasted, either. Kitties love it.

To store fresh fish for up to 3 days (provided your fridge is very cold), fill a container with ice, lay a piece of plastic wrap over the ice, and place the fish on top on plastic wrap or in a zip-lock bag. Do not let fish set in melted ice, as the water will pull flavor out.

Pan Fried Fish Fillets

Now you are ready to cook fish as simply as possible: pan-fried. Allow about 6-8 oz. (about 200 grams) per serving, or just eye-ball an amount that looks good for your appetite. For each 6-oz. fillet, prepare 1 tablespoon of flour, seasoned with salt and pepper. Dredge the fish in the flour, coating it well on all sides.

Heat a skillet over medium heat with equal amounts of olive oil and butter . If you are cooking 2 fillets, 1 tablespoon of each is enough. When the butter has stopped foaming, put the fillets in the pan. Allow 8-9 minutes of cooking per 1 inch of fillet thickness. Halfway through cooking, turn the fillets over and cook the other side. Serve with lemon or lime slices and garnish with fresh cilantro.

If you want a recipe that is even easier, skip the dredging in flour part. Heat equal amounts of olive oil and butter, season the fillets with salt and pepper, and cook following the same instructions.

If this is still too much work for you, slice the raw fish so thin you can almost see through it, squeeze a few drops of lime juice and sprinkle tamari or soy sauce on the slices, and eat sashimi style. You would only do this with the freshest of fish caught the same day and you only do this with fish you filleted yourself, to avoid contamination at the fish market.

Notes:

~ La Cruz de Huanacaxtle is located on the Bay of Banderas, about 15 miles north of Puerto Vallarta.

~ If  you aren’t lucky enough to live close to a fresh fish market, don’t despair. For guidelines on purchasing seafood, refer to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch web page. Frozen fish is usually very good, as it is often flash-frozen on the boat for maximum flavor and freshness.

La Cruz de Huanacaxtle Fish Market


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Coconut Silk Gelatin

Coconut Silk Gelatin

I created this dessert while playing around with possible uses for coconut jelly, the name I use for the very delicate, unformed coconut meat in immature coconuts. Its texture is like the egg white of the softest coddled egg, with a subtle coconut flavor. I know that 99.99% of my readers do not have access to immature coconuts, but this recipe may inspire you to make the same gelatinized pudding with coconut milk, either store-bought or homemade.

I could not find a single recipe on the internet using coconut jelly. Perhaps it goes by another, botanical name, and that is the reason I couldn’t find anything on it. Regardless of its nomenclature, I have a pile of coconuts from our recent harvest, many containing coconut jelly, that need to be used.

If you live anywhere in tropical climes where coconut palms grow, I hope you can beg, borrow or buy an immature coconut. Split the coconut in half, get a spoon, and eat the jelly straight out of the shell. It can not be compared to anything else in the food world that I know of. But this is a personal taste. My husband, Russ, is unmoved by coconut jelly, so I get to eat all of it.

Coconut Silk Gelatin makes 2 1/2 cups

  • 1 package (1 tablespoon/7 grams) unflavored gelatin
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml.) coconut water or water
  • 2 cups (about 1/2 liter) coconut jelly or unsweetened coconut milk
  • a few drops of rose water (optional)
  • fresh fruit slices for garnish

Scrape out the jelly meat from the coconut. You can see in the photo how thin the jelly is and that the shell is barely formed.

Purée jelly in a blender until smooth. In a small saucepan, place unflavored gelatin in coconut water (not coconut milk) or water to soften for a few minutes. When the gelatin has softened, stir over low heat until completely dissolved. Add gelatin mixture to room temperature, puréed coconut jelly meat or coconut milk. Stir in a few drops of optional rose water. Pour into individual serving dishes. Refrigerate until set. Garnish with fresh fruit of your choice.

Coconut Silk Gelatin
garnished with papaya slices and papaya seeds

Notes:

You may have noticed that this recipe contains no sweetener. If you want a sweeter gelatin, add a tablespoon of mild honey.

Coconut in all its forms — fresh and dried meat, milk, water, jelly and oil — are extremely nutritional. Years ago, studies were conducted that found coconut oil and meat too high in saturated fat to be healthy. From then on, coconut products had a poor reputation. Because of these studies, coconut oil was removed from commercially baked goods in favor of canola or corn oil. It has come to light that these studies were conducted using hydrogenated coconut oil, a highly processed oil. Please do your own research and read why coconut meat and unhydrogenated coconut oil should be a part of every diet.

The fiber content of coconut is four times greater than the fiber content of oat bran, and twice as high as the fiber content of wheat bran and flaxseed meal.

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Fish fillets poached in coconut milk

An Authentic Mexican Recipe
Fish Fillets Poached in Coconut Milk

This elegant dish of fish fillets poached in coconut milk was prepared and served to us by simple fisherman in the small town of Calderitas on the Mexican Caribbean coast. My husband Russ had struck up a conversation with them. He loves to fish and is very fluent in Spanish, so they were amigos in no time at all. This new friendship culminated in our being served this delectable dish, one we have never seen on a menu in Mexico or in any Mexican cookbook.

Their coconut milk was freshly made using an ingenious, homemade device, a circular grater attached to a stationary bicycle. The grated coconut was soaked in hot water and the milk was squeezed out by hand. It could not have been any simpler and it worked. You can use unsweetened canned coconut milk or make your own coconut milk, as I have been doing since our big harvest of homegrown, organic coconuts a few days ago.

After they made the coconut milk, one of the fishermen stepped into the surf and cast a net. He had obviously been doing this for a while and after a few casts, had enough fish for the pot.  We looked at each other in amazement and delight. There is freshly prepared food, and then there is freshly caught and prepared food.

You can use any mild, boneless white fish fillets. This recipe multiplies easily.

Fish Fillets Poached in Coconut Milk
serves 2

  • 1/3 cup (80 ml.) celery, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml.) onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) coconut oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 (360 ml.) cups coconut milk
  • 2 6-oz.  (340 grams) fish fillets
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml.) Mexican oregano
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • cilantro for garnish
  • cooked rice, optional

 

  1. Heat oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium-low heat.
  2. Sauté onion and garlic until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, and cook an additional 30 seconds.
  3. Turn off the heat to allow pan to cool slightly. Add coconut milk to pan. (If the pan is too hot, the coconut milk may curdle, but this does not affect the taste of the dish.)
  4. Return to heat and place fillets in the coconut milk. Sprinkle with oregano.
  5. Cover the pan and bring slowly back to a gentle simmer over low heat.
  6. Cook 8-9 minutes per 1 inch of thickness (measuring thickest part of fillet). If the thickness of the fillets varies greatly, place the thinnest fillets in the pan a minutes or two after the thickest ones go in.
  7. Salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with cilantro.
  8. Pass a dish of cooked rice for each person to spoon into their broth.

 

Notes:
This recipe is given exactly as it was prepared for us in Calderitas by the fishermen. Remembering that there are no rules in cooking, feel free to add sliced poblano chiles, red bell pepper, or any other vegetables that appeal to you when sautéing the onion and celery.

The fillets were served to us in bowls with the coconut broth, and we ate it soup-like. I serve it the same way, or over rice.


 

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Coconut harvest day and a recipe for coconut milk

Easy Recipe* with Photos for Homemade Coconut Milk

Pecos had already climbed the first coconut palm when I heard the ladder fall, crashing to the ground. I snapped my head to see the ladder flat under the palms, but no Pecos. He was about 30′ up, tied to the trunk, cutting coconuts as if he did not have a care in the world. And so it continued for about four more hours, as he and his grandfather, Luis, cut ripe coconuts and trimmed palm fronds.

We have our six palms trimmed once or twice a year. This always leaves us with over a hundred coconuts, more than I can process into milk, dry coconut, and fresh meat for eating out of hand. Today, after drinking a pint of coconut water and eating my fill of the fresh meat, I made coconut milk. If you don’t have fresh coconut meat, milk can be made from dried, unsweetened coconut

Coconut Milk makes about 5 cups (about 1.2 liters)

  • 2 cups (about 1 lb./500 grams) fresh coconut, chopped
  • 3 cups (700 ml.) plus 2 cups (480 ml.) near-boiling water
  1. Zizz coconut and water in a blender, holding on the lid very tightly with a dishcloth protecting your hand.
  2. Allow to rest for 5 minutes.
  3. Strain to extract milk, pressing with a large spoon.  Reserve solids.
  4. With fresh, near boiling water, zizz reserved coconut and fresh water in blender, straining again.
  5. This can be repeated one more time, with the milk becoming weaker with each straining.

You probably think that with only two ingredients, this is going to be easy, but the first job at hand is to get the meat out of the coconut shell. If you bought a coconut at the store, it is already husked. To open the coconut, Joy of Cooking advises putting the husked coconut in a 325 deg. F. (163 C.) oven for 15 to 20 minutes., or until the shell cracks. Cool until the coconut can be handled, wrap in a heavy cloth, then crack with blows from a hammer. Have a bowl at hand to catch the refreshing coconut water.

That said, I don’t use this method. Instead, we take the coconut to the chopping block, lop off the top with a machete or hatchet, drain the coconut water, then cleave the nut into quarters. By “we’, I mean my strong-armed husband, the designated coconut opener. I have opened a coconut or two by myself using this process, and I’m glad all my fingers survived intact. Picture holding onto an object twice the size of a grapefruit, and coming down on it again and again with a hatchet, keeping a close eye on the exact location of your fingers with every blow. I will do anything not to use the oven.

By now, you are ready to reconsider the oven method. Better yet, I have seen packaged, fresh coconut meat, already shelled, at Costco, but we are in the tropics, where even Costco has a more exotic inventory.

Back to my fuel-saving method. Aforementioned strong-armed husband also made a tool to break the meat loose from the shell by bending the blade of a butter knife to the same curvature as the coconut. I work the blade in between the meat and the shell, and pop the meat loose.

Using a vegetable peeler, pare off the brown skin. To save time, I tried leaving the skin on once, but the milk had a bitter flavor.

Chop or cut the meat into small pieces. This is the time when you get to start snacking.  There’s plenty.

Fresh coconut and hot water, blended and resting, giving the oil in the meat time to release into the water.

Press against the shredded coconut with a large spoon or spatula. Don’t worry if you don’t get all the liquid pressed, because it is going back into the blender with a new batch of hot water for a second, then third pressing.

Bottle and refrigerate the milk. Depending on how cold your fridge is, freshly made coconut milk will keep for 3-5 days, and in the freezer for months.

Homemade Coconut Milk

Notes:

*I said this was an easy recipe and here is the easy version: to make coconut milk using dry, unsweetened coconut, use equal amounts of dry coconut and near-boiling water and follow the directions above. Depending on how dry the coconut is, you may need to add more water to the blender. Whenever hot liquids are in a blender, hold the lid on very firmly. Don’t fill to the top — leave head room for expansion.

More on how to open a coconut from Wiki.


The remaining shredded coconut can be dried in a food dehydrator. Dry coconut is a high quality dietary fiber, containing four times as much fiber as oat bran and twice as much as wheat bran and flaxseed meal. It can be used in baked goods, and added to granola and smoothies.

Just like unhomogenized diary milk, fresh coconut milk will separate. Shake your jar of milk before you use it for any recipe calling for whole coconut milk. For a recipe calling for coconut cream, skim the top.

Coconut milk can be used for making creamy Coconut Rice Pudding, over cereal, in smoothies, and in  Indian curries. Or drink ice cold for a refreshing beverage.

Coconuts in all stages of maturity with a glass of coconut water

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