Puerto Escondido feels like home!

We’ve spent a lot of time in beach towns along the Pacific Coast of Mexico, and I think we’ve come to realize that Puerto Escondido provides everything we love about relaxing along the coast.  There is a bay to visit for whatever your activity; from calm waters to surfing the waves.  We’ve discovered Rinconada is our favourite area, quiet and calm, most residential and great restaurants.  Not only that, it is a great walk to Playa Bacocho.

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Playa Bacocho, 2 km long and a fantastic morning walk.  These waves and undertow can be treacherous, so watch the waves for 10 minutes or so before getting in.  We enjoyed swimming and bobbing in the waves every day here.

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Playa Carazalillo is perfect for playing in the water – safe and entertaining with snorkelling around the rocky areas, where turtles are often spotted.  This is also a great place for learning to surf or boogie boarding.  A popular spot with both locals and tourists, the entire bay is lined with palapa restaurants.

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It is difficult to figure out when it is going to be a “day off” in Mexico, but when it is the beaches are full of locals.  It is so much fun to watch the families arrive by the bus load, or truck bed, carting food and drink, swimming in clothes and generally having a fantastic time.  They laugh as they bob in the waves and their joy is contagious.  Who wouldn’t love to be hanging out on this beach?

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La Punta ….. a great beach for watching surfers, boogie boarding or body surfing.  Not for the faint of heart or weak swimmers.  Find a nice shaded palapa and relax with some guacamole or tacos while you are scanning the horizon for dolphins or whales.  We were treated to quite an amazing dolphin show here, with them leaping out of the water and playing for an hour or so.  I so wish either my camera or my skills had been able to capture that!

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Zicatela is the primary surf beach, and on a high surf day the waves will be packed with surfboards.

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dsc03459Our home in Puerto Escondido was amazing.  We loved staying at this small 6 unit complex with truly magnificient ocean views.

Take a peek at those ladders between our pool and the beach view …… The “ladder rep” wandered the streets with this push cart selling ladders.  Seems unlikely, but we watched that ladder carrier go from maximum capacity to these few over 2 days!

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Right across from our gate at Las Turquezas was a path winding down to the beach at Playa Bacocho, every day started with a trip down that path for a morning walk and bobbing in the waves.

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Okay, well maybe we didn’t manage to get Vivi out of her hammock EVERY day …

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Going local …. we had use of a wash machine so instead of taking our clothes to the lavanderia we washed them and hung them on the rooftop clothes line.  Now, that is my idea of laundry heaven.

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Sunsets were amazing here, so colourful and while the colours lasted for a while, it is always surprising how quickly that sun goes from just above the ocean to dropping off out of sight.

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sunset

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Puerto Escondido is a prime growing area for sesame seeds, peanuts and mango to name of few of the crops.  I’ve never seen how sesame seeds grow before so that was fun!

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Gina, the “information goddess” has a tourist information booth in Puerto Escondido, and she can organize pretty much any tour you’d like to take.  We did go on an agricultural tour with her, and while it was informative and entertaining, it was probably a bit overpriced at 600 pesos per person.

Loved the plants here, such vivid colour everywhere you look.

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One of the people we met on our tour is Gallo …. He runs a sanctuary for critters, everything from iguanas to turtles, to crocodiles and birds.  It was amazingly clean and well organized.  For years he did this on his own, from his own pocketbook, but is now partially subsidized.  Here he is, explaining that the reason he looks like Zapata is because that was his great uncle … or great great great uncle …. some things get lost in translation!

Once you leave the interior of Mexico, often the best food is also left behind, but not here!  We had some amazing meals here and can hardly wait to go back.  We usually mix things up quite a bit when we are away, cooking at home with local ingredients and eating out as well.  This time, I’ll admit, we ate out more than not, but it was an easy decision with such good restaurants within walking distance.

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Almoraduz Cocina Mexicana de Autor – OMG …… we ate here twice it was so good.  last year I also had back ribs here that I still dream about.

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Turtle Bay Cafe was also a real winner, this sesame crusted tuna was out of this world, and so were the prawns with saffron aioli.

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After day at the beach you just know you want a popsicle ….. we tried the lime, the strawberry with slices of kiwi and mango, and the fresh grated coconut popsicle, all were simply refreshingly perfect!

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I know, I know, the crowds are quite bothersome …..

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Thinking of this moment at home …. remembering the feel of the sun and the sound of the waves ….

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The nightly crib match kept Grant and Wilson competitive right to the trip home.

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Need a pick me up?  Juice water …. I love them all, from this pineapple water, to my all time favourite, green juice.

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Normally we eat at Mexican places ….. but the aromas drifting out of El Sultan finally dragged us in, and we had their chicken schawarma pita twice!  They make their own pitas fresh daily (about 4 times a day!) and it was fantastic.

The ultimate moment of the time spent in Puerto Escondido, of many fabulous moments, was the trip out to swim with bioluminescent plankton.  This is a spot you should visit after dark, preferably really dark, or raining.  Anything to avoid a bright moon.  A short drive from Puerto Escondido and you reach Laguna de Manialtepec, where boats are waiting.  Originally  the plankton was thought to be a curse by the fisherman when their nets were illuminated enough by the bioluminescence that the fish avoided them.  Only a short ten years later they no longer think of it as a curse as 20% of their income is derived from tourists to see this phenomenon.  If you are brave enough, you jump off the boat in darkness …. I wasn’t, but Grant, Vivian and Wilson sure did.  Once in the water the movement is totally illuminated by the plankton, and it is like your body is covered in sparkly jewels.  A few nibbling fish too …..   Another moment where I wish I could have taken a photo.

In many areas of the Pacific coast this is the time of year turtles come ashore to lay their eggs in droves.  We’ve participated in helping at sanctuaries, when the baby turtles are ready to make their journey to the sea, but this is the first time we have been around when the turtles make their way onto shore to begin that process.  It is pure magic.  Just take a moment to sit and watch the waves, and a turtle will suddenly appear, then another, then another.

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This entire beach is covered in mounds ….. how many turtle eggs are under those mounds is anybodies guess.  Each turtle lays between 80-150 eggs.

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With a determined pace they make their way up the beach.

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This same beach can see 2500 turtles appear on one night ….. and no, I didn’t take this particular photo, our driver had taken it on an earlier morning trip out there.  We went at dusk to watch them coming in.

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These poor mama turtles work so hard to get  up the beach, dig the hole with their hind flippers, drop in their eggs, cover them back up with sand and tamp the sand down.  It was amazing for us to watch the whole process, and listen to the sound of the weight she uses to tamp it all down.

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The eggs dropped out in singles and doubles until the hole was filled.  Once done, she makes her way back down the beach to return to the sea.

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We are usually in Mexico for the Revolution day parades, and they are so entertaining!

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Those dancers knew that Vivian and Wilson were tapping their feet, so they pulled them right into the street with them.

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Ahh, Puerto Escondido ….. love these beaches, the sunshine, the amazing food and I just know we’ll be back.

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Hasta la vista Puerto Escondido ……

Sloan’s apple pies

Sloan and I love to be baking in the kitchen together, and most days we would make our own pie dough, but for a little after school baking time, these individual frozen pie tart shells are fantastic. This amazing little granddaughter is only 6, but she did this totally on her own, with a little verbal guidance while I helped 3 year old Stella make biscuits, which believe me – takes all my attention!  Before I know it, this little one will be teaching Nana!

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For 12 tarts:

  • 1 1/2 cups apple, chopped up quite small
  • 1 TBSP white sugar
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp corn starch
  • 1 TBSP grated butter

Mix everything together really well, and divide into each tart shell.  Sprinkle a little crumble topping over, and bake at 400 for 20 minutes, until golden brown.

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Pumpkins Pumpkins Pumpkins

 

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Pumpkins, anyone?????  It’s October and pumpkin season in the Okanagan.  These adorable little pumpkins are super for decorating, and make the best pumpkin flesh.  Roast up a few, and freeze it for using in the middle of winter when pumpkin season is just a memory.

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I like oven roasting my pumpkins, seems to intensify the flavour and – not only that, super easy!

Cut pumpkins in half, scoop out seeds and turn upside down on roasting pan (I like to cover with parchment paper for easy clean up)

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Set those yummy pumpkin seeds aside for another day …. roasted with some seasoning they are a great snack or addition to salads!

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Once you scoop out the roasted pumpkin flesh, use an immersion blender to puree it all, then turn it into a heavy bottom pot and allow to reduce slightly …. (4 cups pumpkin flesh should reduce to 3).  Removing some of this water makes for more flavourful pumpkin flesh.

 

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Ginger Crust & Caramel Sauce

I will tell you right away, this isn’t quick.  However, it is worth every moment you spend …. and after all, isn’t making a special dessert like this worth it?  After all, it is a labour of love!

Ingredients

For the Crust

  • 7-1/2 ounces gingersnaps (or 1-1/2 cups finely ground gingersnap crumbs)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the Filling

  • 1 15-ounce can pumpkin (such as Libby’s)
  • 1-1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup heavy cream, cold
  • 1-1/2 pounds (three 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 5 large eggs, room temperature

For Caramel Sauce

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/8 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, plus more if necessary
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Instructions

For the Crust

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Wrap a 9-inch springform pan twice with aluminum foil (preferably heavy duty). Take care to pull the foil all the way up the sides so that water cannot seep in from the water bath. Spray the bottom and sides of the pan with nonstick cooking spray. Pulse the crackers (or crumbs) and sugar in a food processor fitted with the metal blade until finely ground. Add the butter and pulse a few times to combine. Dump the moistened crumbs into the prepared pan and, using a measuring cup or glass, press into an even layer. Bake until fragrant and set, about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack while you prepare the filling.

For the Filling

  1. Bring about 4 quarts of water to a simmer in a tea kettle (this will be used for the water bath). In a small, heavy saucepan, stir together the pumpkin, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a sputter, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes, until thick, bronzed and shiny. Scrape the mixture into a large food processor fitted with the metal blade and process for 1 minute with the feed tube open.
  2. With the motor running, add the cold cream. Add the cream cheese (cut into chunks) and process for about 30 seconds, scraping the sides if necessary, or until smoothly incorporated. Add the eggs and process for about 5 seconds or just until incorporated (do not overmix!).
  3. Set the cake pan in a large roasting pan. Pour the batter into the cooled crust, and then pour enough boiling water into the large roasting pan to come about halfway up side of the cake pan. Bake until the cake is just set, about 1-1/2 hours. If it jiggles, it’s not done. CAREFULLY remove the roasting pan from the oven and set on a wire rack. Use a paring knife to loosen the cake from the sides of the pan. Cool until the water is just warm, about 45 minutes. Remove the springform pan from the water bath, discard the foil and set on a wire rack. Continue to cool at room temperature until barely warm, about 3 hours. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours or overnight.

For the Caramel Sauce

  1. Stir the sugar, corn syrup, water and lemon juice together in a 2-cup microwave-safe measuring cup or medium glass bowl. Microwave until the caramel is pale yellow, or just barely starting to take on some color, 4-8 minutes (depending on the strength of your microwave). It’s fine to stop and open the microwave to check often; just don’t let it get too dark or it will burn. Let the caramel sit for about 5 minutes — it will gradually turn a rich amber color. (If after five minutes, it’s not dark enough, place it back in the microwave for thirty seconds or so, then let it darken again. If it gets too dark, start over.)
  2. In the meantime, heat the cream in the microwave until hot. Once the caramel reaches the right color, add the hot cream a few tablespoons at a time. It will bubble up intensely, but won’t overflow. After you’ve added all the cream, stir to incorporate then add the butter. Add more cream if the mixture seems too thick. Once the caramel cools, you can store it in your fridge.

For Serving

  1. Remove the outer ring from the springform pan. Slide a thin metal spatula between the crust and pan bottom to loosen, then slide the cheesecake onto a serving platter. (Alternatively, you can keep it on the pan bottom.) If there is condensation on the top of the cheesecake, blot it gently with a flat paper towel. Let the cheesecake stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes, then cut it into wedges. Warm up the caramel sauce in the microwave (it stiffens in the fridge). If it’s too thick, add more heavy cream to thin it out. Drizzle the caramel sauce over each piece of cheesecake and top with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream if desired.
  2. Note: You’ll need a large food processor — preferably with a 12-cup capacity — to make the filling (you can also use an 11-cup, but you may have a bit of leakage). If you don’t have one, it’s fine to use a Kitchenaid Mixer or electric beaters for the filling and a small food processor for the crust.

Mini Pumpkin Cheesecake Bites

Delicious!  Not only do these look pretty darn cute on a serving platter, you will love how they taste.  A couple quick bites of pure pumpkin cheesecake heaven ….

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INGREDIENTS:

For the crust:
8 gingersnap cookies
1 graham cracker rectangle
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1 1/2 tsp brown sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/2 TBSP melted butter

For the cheesecakes:
1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 large egg
2 teaspoons heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ginger

For whipped cream topping:
1 cup heavy cream
1 TBSP powdered sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Arrange oven rack in the lower third of your oven. Lightly grease a 12-cup mini cheesecake pan or mini muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In the bowl of a food processor, grind all ingredients for crust (except for melted butter) until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add melted butter and process until crumbs resemble wet sand. Press mixture by the tablespoon (1/2 Tbsp. if using a mini muffin pan) into each cheesecake/muffin pan cup*. Bake for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare cheesecake. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar and pumpkin puree with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Mix in egg, heavy cream, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger until just combined. Evenly pour filling over each crust. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool in pan for 20 minutes. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before removing cheesecakes from pan.

Remove cheesecakes from pan by gently running a blunt knife around the edges of each cheesecake and popping out.

Before serving, prepare whipped cream. Beat heavy cream, sugar and vanilla in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed, until stiff peaks form. Refrigerate until ready to dollop on top of cheesecakes.

If these get past your original serving, refrigerate the rest until they disappear!

Pizza Pockets & Hand Pies

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Following is the recipe for a basic, soft and easy to work with dough.  I used this recipe for making pizza pockets for my granddaughter Sloan’s first week of Grade 1, and then turned leftover dough into meat hand pies for 93 year old Auntie Elsie, who is kind of tired of cooking these days. Leftover dough you say???  Well I didn’t think 8-10 small pizzas would give me enough dough so I doubled the recipe … which yielded 25 pizza pockets, 10 hand meat pies and 1 pizza for our dinner.  Significant yield!!!

Pizza Crust: (makes 8-10 small pizzettas)
Ingredients:

  • 750 g white flour (use Tipo ’00 flour if you can or a strong bread flour)
  • 200 g semolina flour
  • 2 ½ cups lukewarm water
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. (or 1 x 8 oz packages) yeast
  • 2 tsp. sea salt
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil

Directions:

  1. Place your flour(s) and sea salt in a large bowl and whisk together. Create a well in the center.
  2. In a large measuring cup, mix together your lukewarm water and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Sprinkle in the yeast and let it sit for approximately 5 minutes, until the yeast starts to ferment.
  3. Pour the water/sugar/yeast mixture into the well along with the olive oil and stir together with a fork or large spoon until it is well mixed. Once it becomes too difficult to mix together with your fork or spoon, sprinkle extra flour on the dough and your hands and mix with your hands until the dough comes together in a ball.
  4. Place the dough on a well-floured flat surface and knead, pushing the dough using the palms of your hands, for approximately 10 minutes, until the dough looks smooth and stretchy. You may need to add extra flour as you go, being careful not to add too much to keep the dough from being too stiff.
  5. Place the ball of dough in a large bowl coated with olive oil, dust the top of the dough with flour, and cover with a clean dish towel and place in a warm draft-free area for about an hour, until the dough has doubled in size. Punch the dough down.  At this point you can either refrigerate the dough overnight (or up to 2 days, covered with plastic wrap and occasionally punched down) or divide the dough into 4-6 portions (depending on how big you want your pizzas).  I highly recommend making your dough in advance and letting it sit in the fridge as the longer ‘proof’ really makes a difference.   Ensure that your pizza dough comes to room temperature before cooking (bring it out of the refrigerator 1-2 hours before you are ready to cook).
  6. Once ready to cook, heat your oven to the highest heat setting (500F for most ovens) and place your pizza stone in the oven for at least 20 minutes.
  7. Portion the dough into 8-10 balls and place on a well-floured surface. Using your hands, with your knuckles, (dusted with flour, along with the counter to prevent the dough from sticking) form your pizza crust 15-20 minutes before cooking your pizza on a flat surface dusted with semolina flour until it is nice and thin. Keep stretching it with your hands to make a flat pizza base (it doesn’t have to be round or perfect!).
  8. Remove the pizza stone from the oven, lay your rolled dough on the stone, and add your ingredients ….

If you are using this dough for pizza pockets or hand pies, after step 5 skip to step 7 and form circles of dough.

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For pizza pockets, layer on pizza sauce, your chosen ingredients and cheese, closing the pockets with a fork.  Make sure to prick the top surface with the fork so steam can escape.

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For the meat pies I used an ice cream scoop to get a consistent amount of the meat mixture – centered on the dough, and then brought up the edges to crimp over the middle of the circle.  Brush with beaten egg and poke with a fork.

Bake pizza pockets or meat pies at 400 until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

FILLING FOR MEAT PIE

1 onion, minced finely

1 garlic clove, grated

2 carrots

2 stalks celery

1/2 cup each frozen corn and peas

1 small zucchini, diced

1 lb ground beef

1 tbsp each dried oregano and basil

Saute the onion and garlic until the onion is lightly carmelized, add the carrots and celery, season with salt and pepper, and cook until vegetables are almost cooked through, then add zucchini and saute for another few minutes.  Remove from heat and place in bowl.  Add frozen corn and peas.  Return pan to heat and stir in ground beef – cooking until lightly browned, seasoning with salt and pepper.

Add beef to vegetable mixture and season with dried herbs, adding more salt and pepper if needed.  At this point, if you feel like it needs a bit more flavour, add 1 tbsp of tomato paste.  Stir well and set in fridge to cool down.  When cool, continue on with forming your hand pies.

These pies are only limited by your imagination – use whatever you feel like to fill the pies, making sure to taste the mixture before filling the dough rounds.  Made in a smaller size they make a great appetizer too.

Smoked beans in electric smoker

Hey, your smoker is going with either your pork or chicken anyway, why not put that extra rack to use?  This recipe came from one of the ladies at my office, Karen Benn, and she adapted it to her smoker.  It is such a hit that the beans were gone before either the pork or chicken …. I know that seems weird, but it’s true!  For vegetarians, leave out the bacon and you have an amazing bean dish even without that bacon ….

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Pull out a large fry pan and saute until carmelized:

2 cups chopped white onions

1 pack bacon (partially frozen so you can easily slice it thinly)

Take your time with this step,the richer the color you get on your onions the more flavour your beans will take on.

In a large disposable foil tin, stir in 4 cans of beans.  This is really your own preference, feel free to use any combination of kidney, canelli, black or baked beans.

In a separate bowl stir together:

1/2 cup ketchup

1/2 cup white vinegar

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp dry mustard

Combine beans, carmelized onion and bacon mixture and the seasoning blend.  Stir well, tightly cover with foil (using a sharp knife poke holes in the lid) and smoke in your electric smoker at 275 for about 3 hours.  Yes, they will be runny when they come out, but allow to sit for a few minutes and you won’t believe how quickly they disappear.

 

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