|Typical "Day of the Dead" Table Setting|
First – I would like to begin with saying I am honored to be asked by the fabulous Epicurean Girl to guest blog and take part in this experience! Things are slowing down a bit, and Thanksgiving has just past, and it is the official start of the “Holiday Season” but, for me the end of October has always been the start of the Holidays. Since I was a young wild child, wandering the wide open spaces of central Indiana – I have loved Halloween. Now, when I finally graduated from Trick or Treating - I learned all about Dia de los Muertos from both my Spanish classes and my potentially too frequent patronage to all of the local Mexican Restaurants and fell in love with the celebration, food and culture. Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead is a celebration in Mexico to celebrate the lives of those past. The celebrations take place in the cemetery and involve a lot of eating! I could not have been more excited than when I was asked to come to the Day of the Dead Cooking class at Dos Caminos on Park Avenue. When I moved to NYC a little less than a year ago, Dos Caminos was the first Mexican restaurant I tried, and I don’t see any reason to visit any other—it will be my last!
Corporate Executive Chef Ivy Stark welcomed us into a festive and warm setting, full of foodies ready to learn some celebratory cooking – a stark difference to the freak October snow storm brewing outside. We learned how to prepare an entire celebratory Day of the Dead feast, about the traditions of the celebration, and my favorite – all about the art of Mole making. Not only did we get to enjoy this delicious food, but were also the lucky recipients of the brand new Dos Caminos cookbook, “Mexican Street Food”. I have begun experimenting with the recipes and my mediocre cooking skills are already more refined!
|Chef Ivy Stark hard at work|
We learned to make Pomegranate Sangria, Chocolate Atole with Mezcal Crema, Bocoles with spicy Butternut Squash, Short Ribs with Mole Negro and the Day of the Dead staple, Pan De Muerto. I paid extra close attention and jotted down notes with the intent of going home a recreating a feast for my roommates – although so far, all that ambition has only translated into weekly pitchers of Sangria. I'm still amping up the courage and time to try and make my own celebratory Mole! Here are a few of my favorite things I learned:
The highlight of the afternoon was watching Ivy make Mole. Mole is a celebratory food that differs from region to region, with much pride taken in its preparation. Mole Negro is specific to the Oaxaca region of Mexico. Not only was it one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted, but the preparation is an art in itself. Now, I must say, as a Mexican Cuisine Connoisseur, I am ashamed of two things: First, I have always been scared to try Mole. Second, I was that girl who thought it was a chocolate sauce. Here are a few of the tricks I learned of the Mole trade:
1. It is NOT a chocolate sauce – Mole is mixture of savory flavors
including chilies of different varieties.
2. Toast everything – tortillas, bread, nuts, spices, plantains and
chilies...o my! But, don’t let the chilies burn, they will become
3. The blender is the modern day “matate” and is completely
acceptable for use in Mole making.
4. If you aren't going to use lard, don't make mole.
5. The frying of the sauce is very important – you let it cook for
hours, it gets darker the longer you cook it.
6. Once you try Mole, you'll never go back – easily a top favorite
food of mine now!
To quote Ms. Ivy Stark, “Any good celebration – in the US or Mexico – needs a little bit of booze”. And this celebration had just that. As a Sangria lover I can whole heartedly say, I have never tasted anything better. The recipe calls for specifics, but for me in recreating things, I like the staples and to get creative. What makes this Sangria so different, is the pomegranate. It's great especially because now, Pom Juice and Pomegranates are easily accessible. All you need is some fruity red wine (Rioja was used in this case), Pom Juice, Brandi (rum, vodka, OK both), triple sec and cut up fruits like pom seeds, oranges and grapes. The secret though is to let it chill for AT LEAST 4 hours or even better – up to 48 to let all the flavors soak up and blend.
I also enjoyed learning about the Bocoles, this was a fun recipe that I can absolutely see myself recreating at home. The corn masa and black bean cakes were delicious and stuffed with a butternut squash mixture. Topped with watercress springs and jicama it was a great addition to the whole meal.
My favorite sweet treat of the day was the Chocolate Atole, which fittingly is a common afternoon snack or breakfast drink, especially when it is cold outside. Made with cream, milk, Mexican chocolate and Mexican cinnamon among other things, it is a thick, chocolaty and great tasting and smelling treat all on its own. But to add that little celebratory kick – adding Patron XO and a Mexican Churro makes it extra delicious. Tequila makes everything better, especially when we had to venture back out into the October snowstorm!
Midwest Girl's Conclusion
Overall, I had a great time learning more about the Day of the Dead festivities, through the celebration foods. Muchos, Muchos thanks go out to the group at Dos Caminos, especially Ivy Stark, for welcoming me and putting together such a great gathering. I can't wait to continue putting my cooking skills to the test with these great recipes in addition all of them in the brand new Dos Caminos cookbook, “Mexican Street Food” which I think is a GREAT holiday gift for anyone who likes food in general - so everyone! I am quickly becoming a Dos Caminos regular, and so should all of you! I encourage everyone to stop by any and all of the four New York City , the Las Vegas, Fort Lauderdale and Atlantic City locations. Now go out and celebrate!