Monday, July 28, 2014

Delicious Homemade Tortas!

Let me start this post by saying that I LOVE sandwiches.  They can be eaten at home or on the go.  They are easily customizable, easy to make and absolutely delicious.  The Mexican torta is no exception.  I grew up eating all sorts of tortas whenever I would visit Mexico City.  Some came from restaurants, some from little shops or huts and some were made at the local market.  As good as all those were my favorites were always the ones prepared by either my grandmother or my mother. Those always seemed to have the extra something and personal touch that made them stand above all others. 

Before jumping into how to make your own torta, let's take a look into what a torta really is.  At its most basic a torta is just a sandwich, in other words, it is two pieces of bread that have a bunch of tasty ingredients wedged between them.  What really differentiates a torta from other sandwiches is the type of bread used to make it.  A torta is made with a bolillo, which is an oblong crusty white bread with a soft interior.  

A variety of the bolillo is the telera though it has a more rounded shape, is divided in three sections, and is usually softer.

The bolillo is the foundation of a good torta, so having a good bolillo is essential.  Luckily finding good bolillos is not difficult, especially if you live somewhere with a significant Hispanic population.  Here in Houston I have a lot of choices.  I can always go to the panaderia (Mexican bakery) right down the street.  Or if I am doing my weekly shopping I can just pick some up at my local HEB in their bakery.  Heck I am even lucky enough to have La Michoacana (a local grocery chain catering to Hispanic clientele) that sells both bolillos and teleras.  If you are not lucky enough to have any of these resources at hand and simply cannot find bolillos or teleras, use French rolls or Italian bread.  My mom says even a baguette can be used in a pinch. 

Like with anything in life, there is a great variety in the types of tortas made.  Usually they are simply classified by what they are made with. For example a tora de jamon is a torta made with ham or a torta de huevos is one made with scrambled eggs.  Besides the main ingredient and the bread itself tortas vary by just how they are prepared.  Some are served cold or prepared simply while others are made hot on a griddle.  In Guadalajara there is a variation call the " torta ahogada" or drowned torta due to the fact that after the sandwich is made it is then smothered in a red sauce. 

Making your own torta is as easy as making a ham sandwich.  As stated earlier you will need some bolillos to start with.  Since bolillos come in whole pieces you will then need to split them in half.  Once the bread has been cut it is important to remove some of the migajon, or soft white part from the upper piece of the bread.  This will give you a concave piece of bread that will help hold the sandwich together.

Once you have your bread ready you can go ahead and leave it as is to make your sandwich or you can toast it in the oven.  We choose to toast our bread in a 350 degree oven for about 5-10 min.

While the bread was toasting my mom and I gathered up our sandwich fixings which included refried black beans, mustard, Mexican cream, queso fresco, sliced pickled jalapeno, ham, head cheese, fresh tomatoes, avocado, and red onion.

After the bread was done toasting, we were ready to build our tortas.  First thing we did was spread our cream on the concave side of the bread.  We then spread the black beans and mustard on the bottom half of the bolillo. 

Next we started piling on the meats. First the ham, then the head cheese. After the meat was arranged so it would lie flat against the bread we added the queso fresco.  Now we cut the cheese into slices, but it is possible and acceptable to crumble it and add it to your sandwich this way.

 Then we started to add the veggies such as the onions, tomatoes, and avocado.  It is important to try to add the veggies in a manner to keep them flat so that they won't slide off your sandwich. 

The last thing we added to the torta before topping it off with the other piece of bread was the pickled jalapenos.  The jalapenos add little kick as well as a nice tang to the overall flavor profile of the sandwich. 

All that was left to do was put the lid on the sandwich and enjoy.  The sandwiches were so massive that we simply had to cut them in half just to handle them.  They were a great lunch and so delicious.  They reminded me so much of my visits to Mexico City.

The beauty of the torta is in its simplicity.  A torta is so easy to assemble and to make it just how you want it.  For instance I know head cheese may not be the most popular ingredient.  If that is the case with you then just simply leave it out.  Are you a vegetarian?  Then make yourself a torta de aguacate (avocado)!  The choice is yours. Hopefully this inspires some of you to just go out there get yourself some fresh bread and go nuts! 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Fonda Santa Rosa

A co-worker once asked me that if I had to choose just one type of food to eat the rest of my life what would it be.  My natural response was Mexican food.  I mean I grew up eating pretty much nothing but Mexican food.  I always loved my mom's cooking and I have very fond memories of both my grandmothers' tantalizing cuisine.  So when ever I find a place that comes close to replicating it I am more than happy to give that establishment my patronage.  Luckily I have found such a place in Fonda Santa Rosa.  My wife actually discovered the restaurant when we were looking for a place for dinner.  She found out that Fonda Santa Rosa was owned by the same people who are responsible for Tamales Dona Tere, a favorite place of ours for breakfast.  Naturally we were intrigued and as it turned out we loved the place.

FSR however has not really worked into heavy rotation of our places to go out to eat.  Not for any real rhyme or reason.  Therefore, my latest trip to FSR was with my mom.  She is currently living with us and it was just her and me for dinner.  After weighing some options close to the house and trying to determine what type of cuisine we wanted for dinner, I remembered that FSR was not too far away and quite delicious.  I also figured that my mom being a Mexico City native would appreciate a taste of home.

Of the multiple time that I have dined at FSR I have never experienced a full or busy restaurant.  This night was no exception.  The dinning area consist of several tables in an L shape around what is an open and very visible "kitchen".  This  area was occupied by a large family at one end and a couple of gentlemen at the other.  As we walked in we were greeted and invited to sit anywhere we liked by a friendly waitress.  My mom and I sat kind of in between the two parties.  The fact that it was so quiet gave the place a much more intimate feel. 

While looking over the menu my mom and I had a hard time deciding what we wanted.  The choices were so many and they all sounded tasty.  So to help give us some more time we decided to order some guacamole to start as well as some aguas frescas to drink.

The guacamole was served in a small plastic molcajete with some freshly made tortilla chips.  Not only were the chips fresh, but the guacamole was also exceptionally fresh.  I think it may have even been made only after we order it.  The flavor of the guacamole was quite exceptional.  It was well seasoned as well as very balanced.  The flavor of the avocados was dominant with undertones of sourness from the lime and spiciness from the chile.  It was just the right consistency, not being so smooth that it would seem derived from an avocado paste. 

The aguas frescas were a mixed bag.  My mom got the Jamaica (hibiscus) and I got the pineapple.  My mom's was just right.  It had the flavor that I have come to expect from that drink.  It was naturally tangy balanced out with sweetness derived from the added sugar.  My drink was not quite as flavorful as I would have expected.  It seemed quite bland and insipid.  I was hoping to get a bolder pineapple flavor.  My mom also made the comment that the pineapple tasted as if it was on the verge of going bad.

While looking at the menu we also noticed that they offered agua mineral.  Since we both hand not had one in a while we ordered one for each of us.  They brought us the typical 12 oz glass bottle of Topo Chico which we both loved.

At that point my mom and I had finally made up out minds about what we were going to have for dinner.  My mom decided on the Molcajete Mixto which is basically a small molcajete filled with a combination of beef, chicken fajitas and chorizo in a spicy sauce with tender cactus, Panela cheese, onions, and cilantro.  It was served with rice and refried beans on the side as well as a compliment of corn tortillas.

My mom absolutely loved this dish.  She was enthralled with the presentation as well as the flavors of the different meats. She quickly ate up the tender cactus and enjoyed making tacos from the meats and the plethora of corn tortillas given to us to accompany our meal. She also remarked that the chorizo tasted like real authentic Mexican chorizo.  She was also impressed with the quantity of food.  She had enough to eat her fill and take some home.

For my dinner I chose the Tampiqueña, which is a plate consisting of juicy grilled tender beef accompanied by mole enchilada, fire-roasted Poblano pepper rajas, fresh guacamole, Mexican rice and refried beans. The beef was a thin piece of steak resembling a cecina. It was excellently seasoned and tender as advertised on the menu.  It was great for eating with the tortillas.  The enchilada was sublime.  It was some of the best mole I have had in a long time.  My overall plate was portioned just right so that I ate everything without feeling as if I had over eaten.

As we were wrapping up dinner, my noticed the coffee and asked if it was cafe de olla, which is a coffee prepared with cinnamon and piloncillo.  The waitress informed us that it was indeed cafe de ollo and asked if we wanted to sample it.  My mom accepted.  As soon as she sniffed the coffee my mom's face was an expression of absolute joy.  The coffee was beyond good.  It was delectable with the spiciness of the cinnamon and the sweetness of the piloncillo.  It was so good, I ordered one to go.  I was unable to finish the coffee that evening, but saved it for the next day.  It was excellent even the next day drinking it cold.  My mom also mentioned that if it was this good, after having sat all day on a warmer, imagine how good it would be when it was freshly made.

The waitress told us about the buffet during the weekends from 11AM to 2PM.  They have pretty much all of their menu available for you to partake.  It sounds delicious but dangerous.  I could easily see eating myself into a food stupor.  I highly enjoy this quaint little restaurant and would encourage anyone who wants a taste of truly authentic Mexico City cuisine!

Doña Tere Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon